A four-month-old baby died at Surjakhata village under Dotma block in Kokrajhar district on September 26, an 11-month-old on October 7, a nine-month-old the following day and a two-month-old on October 12. Sources said another two babies had died within this period but could not give details.
While villagers alleged that the babies had died in reaction to polio vaccine, local health workers denied this.
Affected families this correspondent spoke to said the babies were vomiting, unable to raise their heads and had stillness in the eyes. “The baby was well but two days before he died he started vomiting and was unable to raise his head. We took him to the hospital in Kokrajhar but to no avail,” said Rashan Brahma, father of the nine-month-old boy who died on October 8. Dwitya Brahma, who lost his two-month-old son said, “We believe it is a reaction to polio vaccine.”
The local auxiliary nurse midwife, an ASHA worker, said the deaths could not be because of the vaccines as these had been administered at least three to four weeks before. Reaction to vaccines takes place within 24 hours. In fact, no baby was vaccinated in the village in October and even the baby who died on September 26 had been vaccinated about three weeks ago.
That no doctor or health official has visited the place to ascertain the cause of the deaths has added to despondency among the villagers. The midwife said she had informed the authorities in Dotma but hadn’t heard from them since.
Manish Thakur, mission director of National Rural Health Mission in Assam told The Telegraph that he was not aware of the development. “In such cases we normally get reports from deputy commissioners of districts. In this case, the Kokrajhar DC has not informed me of anything. So, I will have to verify the reports.”
Expressing concern over the poor health facilities, the residents said the six-bed Dumariguri state dispensary, the only health centre in the area, had been rendered futile without doctors and proper medical staff. Several residents feared if the deaths continued, illiterate villagers may start attributing it to witchcraft.
Raj Narzary of Nerswn, a Kokrajhar-based NGO, said, “Infant mortality is like epidemic in Kokrajhar. We have been sounding this alert to the health authorities but no one seems to be bothered.”