Amid reports of continuing dengue and viral fever deaths, a five-member Central team of experts is about to conclude its visit of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry after assessing the grip of vector-borne diseases. One member of the team, Prof Ashutosh Biswas from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, walked straight into controversy when he told reporters in Chennai, “More than 12,000 cases have been reported in TN so far. Death is 40…it is very minimal death. Nothing to create panic here.” That was seen as insensitive and politically incorrect in a state that is struggling to contain dengue, but Biswas is no politician. His was a straight talk trying to interpret data compiled by the state government before him without nuance.
Data. That is the keyword. Can it be said with confidence that the stats put out by the authorities across India are authentic? Official figures in Tamil Nadu suggest the dengue death toll was 0, 3, 12, and 5 in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively, but was that the ground reality?
Anxiety to keep the official toll low was visible in West Bengal as well when mercurial Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently berated private laboratories for fanning panic by ‘inflating’ dengue figures. According to her count, the West Bengal toll was 24 on October 12, with six suspected cases of dengue deaths that needed confirmation. Till last Thursday, West Bengal had refused to give official data on dengue.
While in Chennai, Prof Biswas hit the nail on the head, saying, “the dengue breakout is being reported after a gap of four years. It has to be studied if it was really a case of not be able to control it or better reporting of cases”. According to a study recently published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, India underreported dengue cases by as much as 282 times between 2006 and 2012. If politics were to decide data compilation, then there would be no integrity in the healthcare system.