The death of 18 persons in Korukonda block of Malkangiri district was caused by measles as the villagers sought traditional healing practices instead of opting for medical treatment.
A report submitted by a Joint Director-ranked officer of the Health Department who visited the villages has brought to light the fact. The deaths were reported in a span of two months. In Pottel village alone, seven deaths were recorded. The age of the victims varied from four days to 14 years.
While it was initially suspected that the deaths could have been caused by an outbreak of either dengue, malaria or diarrhoea, symptoms suggested acute respiratory infection (ARI), prompting the Health Department to depute the officer for investigation.
The investigation revealed that most villagers sought out help of traditional healers such as ‘ojhas’ instead of going to the health centres. Communication gap also played its part. A health sub-centre was located 4 km from Pottel but villagers did not consult it for treatment. The community health centre was about 11 km away but none turned up. The local health worker was not even intimated about the diseases.
While the first round of measles vaccination had been carried out by the health workers, it could not provide protection to the children. The Health Department is planning a second round of immunisation soon.
Health Services Director Dr Dipak Prusty said lack of communication as well as low awareness among the villagers were major reasons for the deaths but the district health officials organised health camps in the block. “There is no reason for concern now since things are well under control,” he added. Interestingly, even as the district health officials were holding health camps local villagers raised Rs 8,000 to invite a quack to the villages to carry out the traditional healing of the affected ones.
The Chief District Medical Officer of Malkangiri had sent 12 blood samples to Bhubaneswar to ascertain reasons behind the deaths. Three tested positive for measles.