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Grant to prevent diseases unspent
Unused: Funds to fight vector-borne ailments

Aug. 5: A letter from the central official in charge of overseeing the national vector control programme has said that Bengal failed to use over Rs 24 crore of funds allotted to it for the 2013-14 financial year.

The revelation comes at a time the state government is grappling with an outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis in north Bengal. The unofficial toll — figures given by different hospitals, not the director of health services — is 131.

The National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme’s funds are not just for countering Japanese Encephalitis — the virus of which is spread by the Culex mosquito — but also for malaria, chikungunya and several other vector-borne diseases.

Told that the funds were unused by the state, the state’s junior minister for health Chandrima Bhattacharya said: “Speak to the officials of state health department.”

When the director of health services, B.R. Satpathy, the only official authorised to speak on the outbreak, was asked about the allocation, he did not deny that the funds were not used.

He said: “The fund was allocated by the Centre but it was disbursed late. We did not receive it in 2013 but got it only on February and March this year, that is just some days before the end of the last fiscal year. We have used our own funds to carry out the preventive measures.”

The letter, a copy of which is with The Telegraph, was sent by A.C. Dhariwal, the director of the vector control programme, on April 17. The vector control programme is an autonomous body that functions under the Union ministry of health and family welfare. It regularly grants funds to states to control vector-borne diseases.

The director of the central programme has added an annexure to the letter, which shows that the Bengal government could not spend Rs 24.16 crore during the last fiscal, that is, till March 31. The state had funds of Rs 8.08 crore at the beginning of the 2013-14 fiscal. During the year, Rs 28.29 crore was sanctioned by the Centre. Altogether, the state had funds of over Rs 36 crore.

“However, the annexure shows that only Rs. 12.21 crore has been spent during the year, while Rs 24.16 crore was lying unused. Also, the last utilisation certificate from Bengal was sent in January this year, indicating that no major work was done to prevent the outbreak of vector-borne diseases from January to April this year,” said a senior health official in Siliguri.

“According to the data available with the central programme, there had been 226 Acute Encephalitis Syndrome deaths and 12 Japanese Encephalitis deaths in 2013. While in 2014, from January to July 3, there had been 37 AES deaths and one JE death,” he added.

Apart from Bengal, there are some other states, which have also failed to spend the entire funds in the last fiscal. Uttar Pradesh had Rs 24.38 crore unused, while Bihar and Assam had Rs 17.73 crore and Rs 9.20 crore, respectively, lying unutilised in the last fiscal.

Dhariwal asked Bengal and other states to inform the vector control programme about the budgetary requirements for the current fiscal (2014-15) and consider the unutilised amount as the opening balance of the new financial year.

Dhariwal said in his letter that the states should work on the strategic plan, already circulated among them, to control vector-borne diseases. He asked the states to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds, clean drains, carry our de-weeding for ensuring proper flow of water and other activities for the control of vector-borne diseases. If required, the letter shows, the states were also advised to recruit additional manpower and even take the help of panchayats.

The central official mentioned in the letter that to prevent the communicable diseases, “source reduction activities” should be initiated before the monsoon. He asked health officials “key containers which contribute maximum breeding” of mosquitoes should be identified “with the help of Entomological teams and needs to be enumerated and targeted for source reduction on priority”.

Even as the central authority had directed the recruitment of entomologists in April, minister Bhattacharya, during her visit to north Bengal on July 26, said the Union government would be requested to recruit at least one entomologist in each district.

In the letter, Dhariwal mentioned that a multi-pronged strategy should be chalked out by involving other departments to prevent “mosquitogenic conditions”.

He asked for the review of the stock of diagnostic materials like test kits and drugs to make sure that they are readily available at all health facilities.

“It is evident that the state government has failed to make necessary preparations as JE kits were available only at North Bengal Medical College and Hospital. It was only last week that kits have been brought to Malda Medical College and Hospital. Even today, kits are not available in other district hospitals,” said a health official.

Vector Funds

Funds at the end of 2012-13 fiscal: Rs 8.08 crore

Funds released for 2013-14 fiscal: Rs 28.29 crore

Expenditure: Rs 12.21 crore

Funds yet to be used: Rs 24. 16 crore