Calcutta, June 1: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Bengal today suffered the ignominy of being clubbed with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, well known national laggards, in the sphere of polio eradication.
Union health minister Sushma Swaraj slammed the government for failing to run an effective polio eradication programme that led to a surge in the crippling disease.
“People here are paying the price for the unpardonable negligence and complacency of the state government,” Sushma said on her maiden visit to the city as health minister.
“Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Bihar, along with a few other states, have become an embarrassment for us. This is the result of guardians’ negligence and the government’s complacency. Now the world wants to know why India has failed to tackle the disease. Bengal must do something about it,” she said.
As Sushma unleashed a tongue-lashing after inaugurating the statewide pulse polio drive at the state-run B.C. Roy Polio Clinic and Hospital, her state counterpart Surjya Kanta Mishra, chief secretary S.. Roy, health secretary Asim Burman and other officials squirmed in their seats on the dais.
Complacency had crept in as, Sushma said, the government had deluded itself into thinking that it had eradicated polio because only a solitary case was reported in 2001.
“For some reason, they chose to think that there was nothing to worry since polio had been nearly eliminated and showed laxity in their approach. But, sadly, polio has come back to haunt them with a vengeance. At the beginning of the year, seven cases were reported and then 16 more cases surfaced, shocking the government and all of us,” the minister said.
Last year, 49 polio cases were reported from Bengal. In the first five months this year, 23 cases have been reported and South 24-Parganas heads the list with 13. Uttar Pradesh is still the biggest “reservoir” with 28 cases so far this year.
“The outbreak of polio in Bengal has become so disconcerting that I decided to come down to Calcutta and talk to everybody concerned with the health sector, asking them to be careful in the remaining polio rounds in September and November this year,” Sushma said.
Confronted with the reality as portrayed by Sushma, the government owned up to its failure. Mishra and chief secretary Roy sought to retrieve some ground by reaffirming the government’s pledge to fight polio vigorously.
“There is no point denying that polio has returned to haunt us. We had erroneously concluded that we have managed to break its back. We have instructed our health workers that undertaking one or two campaigns is not enough, go to individual houses round the year, find out if there is a family in need of education about the disease,” Mishra said.