“In my 25 years career as a doctor, I have not seen this many cases of dengue reported in Hyderabad,” said Dr Manohar Kumar *, a paediatrician at a leading corporate hospital in the city.
“The Telangana government’s figures are simply not accurate. Last week, they spoke of 149 cases between 1 June and 23 August. Just our hospital would have got that many cases,” says Dr Rameshwar *, infectious diseases specialist at another corporate hospital.
Visit any government or private hospital any time of the day, or even night and you are more than likely to find the emergency wards overflowing and long queues of patients desperately hoping to get a five-minute audience with a physician. Panic and worry describes the emotion every parent is going through.
“Today is the third day, my daughter’s fever has not come down from 104 despite giving paracetamol,” I listen in to the parent of an 8-year-old telling the administrative officer at the hospital, asking to see the doctor. The officer nods and says 104 degree fever is worrisome.
No, says Telangana Health minister Eatala Rajender, tackling dengue and malaria with dry statistics.
“This August, at Fever Hospital in Hyderabad, we have got 51000 OPD cases so far of which only 61 tested positive for dengue. Of those, not a single person died due to dengue,” claims Rajender.
The minister further claims not a single person had died in Telangana due to dengue. That’s a lie.
Just this Saturday, 13-year-old John Elisha Winston succumbed to dengue after his platelet count had a freefall to 13000 when the prescribed range is between 1.5 to 4 lakh/mm3. On Wednesday, Ruthvika, five years old, died while undergoing treatment. Both were residents of Secunderabad.
The government is clueless about how to address the fear factor. On the one hand, you have several instances of fever shooting up to 106 creating panic and hysteria among parents, and on the other hand, Rajender insists that the dengue virus this year is not so strong. The government is now distributing homoeopathy medicines to combat dengue, with no proven track record on how effective they are. The minister himself took the medicine to show he is leading by example.
Added to this problem even in private hospitals is the dearth of beds. The critical phase in dengue care is when the fever subsides and the platelet count starts getting adversely affected. It is accompanied by lethargy, vomiting, hands and feet going cold, giddiness and pain in the abdomen.
The risk with dengue is that early detection alone helps and the window period in case bleeding starts, is not an extended one. It is here that the absence of emergency health care can prove fatal. As it did in the case of Winston, who had to wait for three hours to get a bed. By the time he was admitted to the ICU, he had lost critical time.
The government would do well to stop living in denial. It is hardly the time to score brownie points and point to Government of India figures that say Telangana at 530 confirmed cases of dengue (from 1 to 25 August) is much less than West Bengal (5046), Maharashtra (2061), Karnataka (1471), Kerala (1148) and Gujarat (1144).
If children are recording temperatures in the range of 104-106 and then testing positive for dengue, it is hardly the occasion for the minister to insist that the dengue virus is not strong this season. Especially when according to his own department’s admittedly conservative figures (not all private hospitals report figures to us, says an official), over 1.15 lakh blood samples have been tested, with 372 testing positive for dengue.
What the government needs to do is to ensure beds are available for patients in need of critical health care. Home care should be encouraged but by advising the parents on dos and donts, with a clear protocol explained on what is to be done in case of emergency. Elisa kits need to be available at government hospitals for quality assessment of dengue. The absence of such kits is another reason why the government is conveniently claiming a lower number of dengue cases.
With the monsoon likely to extend for another ten days, the municipal authorities need to work on war footing against stagnant water pools and ensure sanitation. It is a shame if a state, its people and the government cannot win a battle against mosquitoes.
(* Some of the names changed on request)