Why no tears shed for doctors who die of dengue?

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Woman in Kolkata died outside hospital allegedly awaiting payment of her treatment.(Representational Image, Credit: Ashkan Forouzani/ Unsplash.)
Woman in Kolkata died outside hospital allegedly awaiting payment of her treatment.(Representational Image, Credit: Ashkan Forouzani/ Unsplash.)

Soroor Ahmed

TNW, Patna, May 12: When two senior doctors of Patna and two government officials lost their lives after being inflicted by dengue in just over a month time in October-November 2018 the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar refused to accept that they died of mosquito-borne disease.

Not only this much, Savita Kumari, 22, a lady constable undergoing training in Patna’s New Police Line, also died of the same disease in the same period but not to speak of conceding her illness, the authorities even denied her leave for four days before the matter got complicated and she had to be rushed to a private hospital where she succumbed to  dengue.

The Patna edition of several dailies and some regional channels reported their deaths but the Delhi-based newspapers and television networks had hardly any space for them even as high as over 2,000 people suffered from dengue in Bihar that monsoon. The number of those who perished could only be speculated because the government did not even accept the deaths of these officials.

Why no tears shed for doctors who die of dengue?

Regarding the death of Savita, the national media did highlight simply because the policemen and women went on rampage attacking senior officers, journalists, photographers, public and private property and vehicles etc. The Rural SP of Patna, a DSP and Sergeant Major were among the injured. The official residence of the Sergeant Major was also ransacked and his family members were assaulted by the angry mob of policemen and women, who alleged that Savita had died of sheer negligence.

Otherwise the death of this policewoman would not have been covered nationally. Just 18 months down the line the scenario is completely different, not in Bihar alone but all over the country. All the television and YouTube channels, newspapers, portals etc are busy giving minute-by-minute description of COVID-19, which has taken the lives of 2000 people ever since the virus first struck Kerala  three months back, that is, on January 30 last.

The entire country has been put under lockdown on the intervening midnight of March 24-25 and the powers that be perhaps after much delay realised that they have been ignoring the health sector.

There is certainly no problem in going all out against the pandemic, which has been wreaking havoc in a large part of planet. So far it has taken the lives of over 2.75 lakh people. But here a brief fact should also be taken into account: over 90 per cent of deaths had occurred in countries having temperature between 5 and 11 degree Centigrade or fall between 30 and 50 degree latitude in Northern hemisphere.

The death of 2,000 people is certainly a big loss, but it should also be kept in mind that on an average about 1,000 people die of tuberculosis everyday in India. 

Ironically, March 24–the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown–is observed as World TB Day yet no mention was made by him about this disease in his address.

No doubt doctors, nurses, pharmacists, sanitation workers etc deserve due respect and proper safety kits should be provided to them, whether there is Corona Virus or not. But compare this situation with what had happened in Bihar only a year and a half back. But Bihar is no exception; other governments too remain in state of denial.

 The death of senior physician of Bihar’s most premier government health-hub, the century old Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) Dr Vinay Kumar, is a case in point.

He had treated several dengue patients himself before succumbing to disease at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in New Delhi on Nov 21, 2018. A senior doctor at the medicine department of PMCH, Dr V.P. Sinha, confirmed that Dr Vinay Kumar was admitted at PMCH on Nov 19 night when his condition deteriorated owing to dengue fever.

“He was later referred to Ruban Memorial Hospital in Patna and was further referred to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi. He was taken there in an air ambulance but there was no improvement in his condition in Delhi. Dr Vinay Kumar breathed his last on Nov 21 night at the Delhi hospital,” Sinha was then quoted by the media in Bihar.  

While PMCH doctors claimed that Dr Vinay Kumar died of dengue, officials of the health department appeared clueless about the cause of death of the senior physician. “We have learnt that Dr Vinay was suffering from fever for the past five–six days. He was also taken to Ruban Memorial Hospital for treatment from where he was referred to the Delhi hospital. Only after his relatives come back from Delhi would we know his medical history and details of the disease which caused his death,” the state program officer for vector-borne diseases, Dr M.P. Sharma, had said then.

However, this was not the only case of the state government’s indifference towards doctors. The health department had earlier denied dengue as the reason of death of Ford Hospital anesthetist Dr Vijay Kumar and district programme officer of Integrated Child Development Scheme, Sangeeta Kumari. They died in October. While relatives of both Dr Vijay and Sangeeta Kumari claimed that they died due to dengue, the health authorities refuted their claim.

It needs to be mentioned that Savita (the lady constable) died on Nov 1, just three weeks before Dr Vinay Kumar’s demise. On the same day Srishti Raj Sinha, a sub-divisional magistrate posted in chief minister’s home district of Nalanda, died of dengue in a private hospital in Patna. Though the family members claimed that he died of dengue, the civil surgeon of Patna Pramod Jha said he was not aware of the case.

Curiously, while doctors and Para-medics across the country are repeatedly complaining that they are not getting the Personal Protective Equipment to fight Corona Virus, none of them protested in Bihar then when two of their colleagues succumbed to dengue in quick succession. This was the situation in the state capital, the condition elsewhere can only be imagined.

In contrast only so far six patients had died in Bihar of Coronavirus in the last two months. The number of those suffering from the disease has just crossed 800 mark. The two who died, one from Munger and another from Vaishali district, had been suffering from kidney related ailment and TB respectively. Two died on May 1 and 2 of cancer. The Corona Virus only deteriorated their condition. The fifth died on May 7. He was a 70-year old man suffering from asthma. The sixth to die was a 60-year old man of Patna district who breathed his last on May 9.

The big poser is: if the doctors across the country can go on warpath and strike work after they are heckled or assaulted by attendants of the patients, why nobody, not even the Indian Medical Association, had raised the issue of these two doctors who died unsung of dengue? No one shed any tears for them.

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(Soroor Ahmad is a senior journalist based in Patna. He is author of ‘The Jewish Obsession’. The views expressed are personal)

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