The dark under-belly of India - Cholera in 21st century

The green hills -- those that once used to soothe the entire region through the stilly silence, and fill it with the great wonder of multitudinousness -- have suddenly turned into a valley of death.

Updated: Sep 18, 2010, 17:03 PM IST

DN Singh

The green hills -- those that once used to soothe the entire region through the stilly silence, and fill it with the great wonder of multitudinousness -- have suddenly turned into a valley of death. First Diarrhea and then Cholera, the quiet bosom of the picturesque Raygada district is today torn by the screams of pain and loss of lives. People are dying like flies and hundreds are lying on beds.

More than 150 have died so far and the signs are still ominous for those affected because the much required medical succor is not reaching the victims in time. Further, many more are beyond the reach of the teams deployed to tackle the menace of Cholera. It was a disturbing sight to see patients being carried on cots to far off primary health centres, which rubbish the claims of the state health department that boasts about its preparedness on war-footing from the air-tight enclosures in the state capital. "The situation is under control," was the usual refrain from the state Health Ministry. And we are in the 21st century!

Reports indicate a death toll that should make the people in power think, as to how long a system can cheat the masses? How long can they uphold their unconquerable passion to rule through rhetoric and inconceivable power of deceptions? What was no less disturbing was the way the state`s health minister and the health secretary conducted themselves almost after a month of the outbreak.

Stirred from their state of stupor, reportedly by the chief minister, the duo reached Raygada. Donning spotless white calico the health minister was seen in video footage almost laughing his way through the gullies which were witness to many deaths and hundreds of troubled souls in the grip of the epidemic. The minister was usually seen accompanied by the health secretary in her best of outfit in colored `salwar kameez`.

Despite the conflict over the figures of the casualties, the fact remains that the epidemic has spread to about six more districts including Koraput, Nuapada, Malkangiri, Nabrangpur, Gajpati, Bolangir and parts of Sundergarh. What is common with all these districts is not only poverty and backwardness but, in almost all the districts, 60 percent of the doctors’ posts have been lying vacant for years. The scene reminds of a time when the manmade famine had struck China in the late 50s and its then ruler, Mao Zedong saw some meaning behind the deaths by stating that if half of the population died, the other half can be in comfort.

So, after 63 years of independence the Orissa government said on Friday that from now onwards, there shall be yearly reviews of the health service system in the state. What an awakening of the souls! May be similar suggestions were made by the then government when more than 5,000 people had died under similar circumstances in the same region, in 1987-88 and another 500 had perished in 2007. Such callousness is unbelievable.

Was the chief minister not aware of the beleaguered health service scenario in the areas which suffer from such outbreaks almost every year? But every government knows that the public memory is very short and they also know any reoccurrence can very well be managed through the art of absolving responsibility by issuing populist statements. So, this government is also using the same old trick of deflecting blame and treating its top officers, required to ensure health service, with kid gloves.

While six districts are reeling under the epidemic, a brigade from the ruling clan, including 7 to 8 ministers, are busy like an orchestra party organizing `samavesh` rallies, making helicopter sorties at public expense, to counter the Centre on either Polavaram or Vedanta. Look at the limits to which politics can sink. When people are lying on death beds, a blame game is on between the state and the Centre.

The Union Health Ministry, thanks to Gulam Nabi Azad`s belated awakening, could realise the gravity after over 150 deaths due to Cholera and has sent a team of experts to take stock of the situation. By the time the team goes back to Delhi and submits the report and the ministry responds, there shall be little left to do as the ravages of the disease would be over with the list of dead getting longer.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is seen as a personification of a steel resolve, businesslike, transparent, educated and concerned for the tribals in his own way, should have stood up to the terror of the reality his cronies have pushed the health services to and punish those responsible than merely indulging in the rhetorical fence-mending to protect the demagoguery of some politicians and officers.

Is this the stuff our governments should be made of and is it the measure of the depths to which the rural development or health services have sunk that a handful of officers and politicians could even believe that the people can be taken in by this gibberish.