Righteous public indignation was boiling over when a two-year-old child died trapped inside a borewell. This emotion is, however, missing in the case of tens of children who have lost their lives to dengue in Tamil Nadu. Since January, 3,900 confirmed dengue cases have been reported in the state. The actual number could be much higher. There were five deaths in just one district—Vellore. Why is TN, which has one of the best healthcare systems in the country, struggling to deal with this crisis?
To begin with, mosquito-transmitted diseases are part of a larger problem. They have an environmental connection. TN witnessed a crippling shortage of water this summer. Residents across cities dealt with it by storing water in large canisters at homes. Without realising, they were creating ideal breeding spaces for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Not just that, TN cities have not had elected representatives for a long time. Chennai has been functioning without a mayor for three years. As a result, apart from levying fines, there’s a general tardiness in the upkeep of cities and towns.
Together, these make a recipe for disaster. Human errors and callousness are also claiming lives. Three children died of dengue when doctors in the state were busy protesting for promotions and pay hike. Two children reportedly died because their doctors refused to follow the treatment protocol. To top it off, a health official in Vellore made a shocking claim that deaths in the district were under ‘permissible’ levels. TN isn’t alone. The viral disease has claimed lives across India. Perhaps the worst case reported this year is this one from Telangana’s Mancherial district: In a span of 15 days, a newborn lost his entire family—father, mother, brother and grandfather—to dengue and is now an orphan.
A recent study by an international team of researchers has found that due to climate change, dengue-carrying mosquitoes will expand their range drastically by 2050 and be in a position to infect nearly 50%
of the global population. Cities must
ensure they have the proper administration and technology to deal with these health crises.