Is West Bengal continues to grapple with killer dengue, there is considerable confusion over the death toll. The health department is said to have stopped updating the casualty record perhaps to avoid an embarrassing disgrace but apparently to avert panic. In the event, fears of a panic have seemingly given way to complacency, the harsh truth being that people have been driven quicker to death than to prompt diagnosis and effective treatment. Garbage piles high in parts of Kolkata despite the Mayor&’s ambitious intent to upgrade the city as a twin of Germany&’s Dusseldorf. Faced with this dumbing down, the Union health ministry has had to remind the state that no fewer than 23 people had already perished; an off-the-record admission by the health authorities would suggest that the toll could be as high as 30.
Till last week, at least 170 people had been admitted to five premier private hospitals in Kolkata. The number has been increasing at a worrying pace ever since the virus was first detected with the onset of monsoon. It is hard not to wonder whether the tax-payer will have to invoke the Right to Information Act to garner data on the awesome spread and fatalities. The information that appears to have been kept in abeyance pertains to an essential segment of public health and must of necessity be disseminated if only to acquaint the people with the situation, specifically whether the health graph illustrates an upward or declining curve.
Faced with the health department&’s attempt to keep matters under the hat, the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme has been compelled to underline the relevance of data in popular perception and the need to disseminate the facts and figures. Not least because it prompts precaution and helps prevention… before it is too late. Dumbing down can only accelerate speculation. As a professor of Delhi&’s AIIMS has informed the state: “Exact numbers give the true picture. Then people can take rational decisions based on a rational perception of the threat.”
Given the health department&’s reluctance to share information on a “notifiable” outbreak, the state is faced with a quirky situation — people are either over-reacting to the symptoms or not reacting at all. Which is perhaps the worst of both worlds. Indeed, the ignorance stems from the lack of information.
In terms of dissemination of data, Bengal fares poorly in comparison with Karnataka where the website is updated each day with the number of cases and deaths. Surely, there is no call to treat the incidence of dengue as a state secret.