Health officials confirmed 1,048 cases of dengue across Punjab as of Wednesday, making it the second worst-hit province. Sindh, with over 1,600, tops the list. However, unlike Sindh, in Punjab a majority of the patients — 910 — are concentrated in Lahore. The reason for this seems to be the ineffective campaign of the city government.
There were reports that the department of epidemic diseases was asked to spray insecticide in the district but it failed to do so. Many health experts have, time and again, criticised the government for delaying the start of the drive by a month. They have termed the delay as the main reason for the high number of cases reported. According to a TV channel, a laboratory test proved that the spray being used was substandard and a report about this was sent to the chief minister. The report also said that former Executive District Officer Health Dr Fayyaz Ranjha was the one who bought the spray. This follows Ranjha’s suspension last week for sending a fake report regarding the awareness campaign to the health department. The anti-corruption unit is also believed to be investigating reports of embezzlement related to the campaign. Some media reports have also quoted health officials as saying that they do not need to do much this year since summer is on its way out.
All aforementioned charges need to be investigated and those responsible should be held accountable if the outbreak is to be controlled. Much might not come out of the campaign this year, but accountability is very important to send a strong message to the concerned authorities for next year. Health officials, who are breathing with relief, now that temperatures are decreasing, also need to be told that their job is to control an epidemic and not wait it out.
The formation of a better strategy should not just be limited to Punjab. The World Health Organisation recommended, in March, that the approach be changed from an emphasis on insecticide fogging to community-based approaches, involving political and religious leaders. Maybe the government should pay heed to this advice.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2010.