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Managing disease

Editorial |

The judiciary has stepped in where the executive had failed to tread, to use a variant of what Alexander Pope had once written so famously in his poem, An Essay on Criticism. Calcutta High Court (coram: Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, Acting CJ, and Arijit Banerjee, J) has conveyed a resounding signal to the Government of West Bengal, directing the State to declare dengue as a “notifiable disease”. This in itself is testament to the gravity of what the Chief Minister, with Health under her belt, had initially dismissed as “fever”. Last Friday’s order makes it mandatory for all government and private hospitals, that admit patients with dengue, to furnish a report on the patient to the state government as well as the Centre.

Collation of data enables the authorities to monitor the outbreak and thus emit the warning signals. The order comes in the wake of the sluggish response of the health department towards the outbreak ~ almost to the point of denial ~ over the past four months. During this period, the state has been loath to declare dengue as a notifiable ailment not least because it would have chimed oddly with its claims. Indeed, it was firm in its refusal in response to a suggestion by the Additional Solicitor-General.

The affliction has over time assumed virtually endemic proportions and the judiciary has sought a notification after enough have died ~ 40 according to the official count ~ and many more are languishing on the hospital bed when not on the floor. Markedly, the directive of the court covers the basics of public health and general administration in the wider perspective.

West Bengal’s Swasthya Bhavan has been directed to send mobile vans for the collection of blood samples to the remote areas of the state. Follow-through action on the reports thus becomes direly imperative when one reflects on the government’s denial of platelet-count figures. The High Court has sought a compliance report in the context of its previous order. In the net, the administration has been rapped on the knuckles for its unethical and fallacious approach.

The fact that the fundamentals of public health are not in place is evident from yet another facet of the order ~ the health department has been directed to provide adequate Elisa test kits to all hospitals. Critical too must be the court’s observation on the proposed compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of a dengue victim. Though the matter will be considered on the day of the final judgment, remarkably pertinent is the court’s observation that families of illicit liquor victims are also paid compensation. The administration is on the mat and must work overtime to regain the faith of the people.