The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bleak dossier on bad blood
- Alarmed over figure spiral, govt holds thalassaemia check camps

A killer is on the prowl. And it’s getting under the skin of victims, unnoticed.

This is what the state government’s dossier has to say on thalassaemia (a genetic blood disorder that stops a person from leading a normal life, mainly by delaying clotting) and its victims.

The number of ‘intermediate thalassaemia’ patients in Calcutta and elsewhere in the state is pegged at 800,000. And more than 40 per cent of them (around 3.5 lakh) is unaware that they risk developing ‘thalassaemia major’, a much more serious trait, and passing it on to their children.

Things have never been so bad, admit officials, and it has prompted the state health department to figure out the exact number of people suffering from this genetically-transmitted disease that necessitates lifelong blood transfusion.

“We are deeply concerned at the state of affairs,” said minister of state for health Pratyush Mukherjee. “We have, therefore, adopted a string of measures to try and tackle the situation.”

The “string of measures” includes a greater emphasis on camps to detect thalassaemics and thalassaemia-carriers and the establishment of a speciality hospital (in Howrah) to deal with this disease. “We have also sought the help of private institutions to set up more such hospitals,” Mukherjee added.

The annual number of thalassaemia cases detected in Bengal stands at 20,000. “There has been an alarming spurt in thalassaemia intermediate,” said a health department official. “But, more alarmingly, so many have no clue that they are carriers.”

Many of the detections come at a very late stage, observed Tarak Mukherjee of the Thalassaemia Society of India. This, other departmental officials say, has prompted the regular detection-camps in the city.

Last Saturday, the venue was Salt Lake, where the under-13 age-group from the city and adjoining districts was invited to be part of a football-tournament-cum-cultural-programme day. But all that was just to lure a large number of kids (more than 300) to the venue for tests conducted by the Subodh Mitra Memorial Cancer Hospital.

The tests confirmed the government’s worst fears — around 50 per cent of the children were found to be carriers, with most parents ignorant about the condition or the consequence.

“These children have a high probability of giving birth to thalassaemia-major cases if they marry similar carriers,” said hospital director A. Mukherjee. Minister Mukherjee said more such camps would follow, many of them on school campuses.

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