The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lag in letters, lead in health hazard

Calcutta is an epicentre of education and a powerhouse in the pink of health.

If you scoff at this, you're right.

A multi-agency survey confirms ' and quantifies ' some of the worst fears about the city that is being desperately flogged by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government to trigger a turnaround in Bengal.

Steered by the Indian Statistical Institute, National Neurosciences Centre, Bangur Institute of Neurology and All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, the survey on the incidence of stroke and four other major diseases stalking Calcutta has come up with alarming findings.

The current findings revealing a 'backward' Calcutta, in the high-risk zone for suffering a stroke, have been thrown up in the first phase of disease road-mapping.

Commissioned in October 2002 by the Indian Council for Medical Research, one part 'the incidence of stroke ' of the Rs 22-lakh survey has just concluded. The rest, covering epilepsy, dementia, Parkinson's disease and cerebral palsy, would be wrapped up by 2005.

'We generally believed that strokes, both haemorrhage and thrombosis in nature, were much less here compared to the US or Europe, but that myth has been shattered in this first-ever comprehensive study just completed by us,' said Tapas Kumar Banerjee, head of department (neuromedicine) at the National Neurosciences Centre.

During the survey, Banerjee and his team, including neurologist Shyamal Das and director of Bangur Institute of Neurology, Trishit Roy, examined more than 53,000 residents across the city.

'From barely a hundred cases per lakh people (a few years ago), it has now risen to about 780 cases per lakh,' added Banerjee. The study on strokes was presented on Saturday at the Indian Academy of Neurology in Nagpur.

'These findings are as alarming as the city's dismal literacy level,' observed Banerjee, something that the team stumbled upon.

Sample this: at least 40 per cent of women and nearly 25 per cent of men in Calcutta are illiterate; only 10-20 per cent of the total population are graduates; 70 per cent of women in the city are unemployed.

Or this: students and unskilled workers account for a major chunk of the city's male population.

From sociological distress to haematological hazards, the survey paints a dismal picture. 'This is quite a revelation and it requires a more comprehensive survey by the state government to trace the causes,' said a senior official of Indian Statistical Institute.

Scientists at the Indian Council for Medical Research also expressed surprise and spoke of extending the survey beyond 2005 and pumping more money into the project.

'We will go deep into the case and find more details. A lot of hard work has gone into this study, but a lot remains to be done,' said neurologist Das.

Since it was the first such survey conducted across the city, the Indian Statistical Institute helped researchers divide the zone into several sections and coordinate with the doctors.

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