Outbreak of dengue: More effective measures needed
While the capital city in particular and the nation in general is grappling with the worst outbreak of dengue fever in epidemic form, with hospitals packed with patients as the disease spreads speedily, round-the-clock panic has kept people on tenterhooks as “severe dengue is a leading cause of serious illness and death.” The High Court on August 27 has directed the authorities concerned to take more effective measures across the country in order to prevent Aedes mosquito.
As outbreak of Dengue assumed the form of a dreaded infection rapidly spreading beyond Dhaka city; hospitals swamped with patients are filled to the brim consequent upon which overstrained doctors, nurses and pathologists are facing a very hard time handling the unprecedented deluge of treatment seekers. Let alone the ordinary people, several medical doctors have died of Dengue on 3 July, 22 July and 26 July respectively. Therefore, naturally a sense of fear has gripped the mass psyche.
The pathetic six-hour long travails and rigmarole at the Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital in the capital of one Dengue patient— Mohammad Alauddin, a mason—who went from pillar to post in an effort to get admitted is one of the hundreds of such ordeals suffered by people who need urgent medical attention. After an hour’s wait, he finally got the ticket. But there was another queue to see the doctor. Standing in another row in Block 4, Alauddin began to feel worse. Around noon, the resident physician office staffers asked Alauddin to get admitted to the hospital the next day after getting the new test reports. After giving blood samples at about 12:20pm, Alauddin’s headache and stomach cramps intensified. He returned to the emergency ward where on-duty doctors put him in observation for 30 minutes. Alauddin then visited a top official of the hospital as he felt he needed to be admitted immediately, instead of waiting another day. The hospital official then made arrangements for Alauddin, who got the permission for admission at 1:40pm. He reached the designated ward where on-duty doctors advised him to take some more tests, including an ultrasound, and the IgG and IgM tests.After doing all these, he was finally given a mattress on the floor of the ward 1. Hospital authorities put him on saline drip at about 2:50pm. Regarding Alauddin’s case hospital Director Uttam Kumar Barua said, “we do not delay the admission of such patients,” he said, adding that “since the patient’s platelet had dropped so low, he should have been admitted immediately”. [Vide “Six hours at Suhrawardy”; The Daily Star, August 28, 2019]
There was empathy and sensitivity in Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader. Any virulent disease should be a matter of serious concern for a Health Minister, but the Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque’s statement of 30 July 2019 was improper. He said, “Why such a huge number of dengue patients are there in our country? My simple answer is the spread of mosquitoes, spread of Aedes mosquitoes. The mosquito population is increasing just like the Rohingya population after they came to our country. The minister’s equating Aedes mosquitoes with the stateless wretched Rohingya refugees was reproachful to say the least. The Health Minister further said, “It is the city corporations’ responsibility to kill mosquitoes, not that of the health ministry.”
Given that the implication of proper deportment is recognised hence it needs no elaboration. Since 21 June 2016 the two mayors of Dhaka City Corporation have been accorded the rank and status of a Cabinet minister, but the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor Atiqul Islam could not contact Health Minister Zahid Maleque despite repeated attempts to get him for the last two days. The DNCC mayor made the disclosure to the journalists while attending a cleaning campaign at Gabtali bus terminus in the capital on 28 August. On 27 August, officials of DNNC tasked with inspecting buildings to find mosquito larvae were barred from entering the Baridhara residence of Health and Family Welfare Minsiter Zahid Maleque. Terming the incident as ‘‘sorrowful’’, Mayor Atiqul Islam said, “We are not imposing fines on owners after visiting residential houses for the first time. We are imposing fines on the ownners or authorities of under construction buildings or commercial organisations, if larvae of Aedes mosquitoes are found.”
Here comes the question of accountability which is when elected public representatives/ministers or their ministries are held responsible for the performance of a specific function. They are liable or responsible for the correct execution of a particular task, even if they may not be the one performing the task. [Vide Rick Stapenhurst and Mitchell O’Brien, World Bank Institute; Accountability in Governance–––World Bank Group.]
Accountability ensures actions and decisions taken by public officials are subject to oversight so as to guarantee that government initiatives meet their stated objectives and respond to the needs of the community they are meant to be benefiting, thereby contributing to better governance. Accountability is one of the cornerstones of good governance. Accountability exists when there is a relationship where an individual or body, and the performance of tasks or functions by that individual or body, are subject to another’s oversight, direction or request that they provide information or justification for their actions. Parliament is key actor in what has been termed the ‘chain of accountability’. [Ibid]
Politician and writer Habibullah Bahar Chowdhury (1906 – 1966) was Health Minister of East Bengal from 1947 to 1953 who successfully eradicated mosquitoes during his tenure. An influential leader of Congress and member of the then East Bengal Legislative Assembly, Prabhas Chandra Lahiri, in his memoirs wrote, “When Habibullah Bahar sahib was the Health Minister, he completely eradicated all mosquitoes from Dhaka, and then I slept without mosquito nets in Dhaka. That was Bahar.”
Last but not least, it is good to remember that history is a great teacher.