The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Red tape block to silicosis treatment

Balurghat, July 4: Just when Manik Debnath was wishing for the end to come, help came to him in the form of admission to a hospital.

A month at the district hospital here and the 27-year-old suffering from silicosis wonders if death would have been better.

Bouts of breathlessness followed by dizzying spells — symptoms of the disease which occurs when silicon particles settle in the lungs — coupled with the fear that he will never be able to earn his livelihood had made him wish for death.

Debnath wrote to the President, the chief minister and Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi for permission to end his life. That was in May.

A few days later— on May 29— the district magistrate of South Dinajpur, Swapan Chatterjee, arranged for his hospitalisation. Fifteen days at the Balurghat district hospital and Debnath, a resident of Kushkari, 70 km from here, realised that there wasn’t much that the doctors here could do for him.

Amartya Mishra, the doctor attending to him, has already told him that he needed a CT scan and lung and bronchial tests, the facilities for which are not available at the hospital. “These can only be found in Calcutta hospitals like SSKM,” Mishra told him.

It was then that a letter arrived from deputy health secretary Swapan Chakraborty.

The governor had referred Debnath’s case to the health department and ordered that a proper treatment be arranged for him. Chakraborty’s letter addressed to the chief medical officer of health (CMOH) of South Dinajpur said so. A copy of the letter was sent to Debnath.

“But nobody from the health department contacted us,” said Madhavi, Debnath’s elder sister.

Nine years ago, Debnath had gone to Uttar Pradesh to work in a quarry. Four years after that he contracted the disease — the dust from the stones he broke settling down in his lungs — and Rs 2.70 lakh has been spent already on his treatment.

“We are trying our best here. But he should be in Calcutta. Not only that, he needs high calorie diet,” said Debnath’s doctor.

Debnath and his sister had been banking on the health department’s letter. But with CMOH Malay Ghosh denying having received any such instructions from Writers’ Buildings, they are at a loss.

“We have nobody to turn to. We thought the district administration would arrange for his shifting to Calcutta. But the CMOH is saying he hasn’t received the letter. This is strange because we have received the copy of the letter addressed to him,” said Madhavi.

Superintendent of the district hospital Ashok Biswas said, he too, has not received any instructions from the CMOH to shift Debnath to Calcutta. “We are giving him all medical support. Blood and medicines are being provided to him free of cost,” Biswas said.

The CMOH said his hands were tied because he had not received the letter. “I haven’t got it yet,” Ghosh said over telephone from Jalpaiguri.

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