Three health officials, from north Bengal were suspended on Friday, by West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, after they allegedly failed to report the outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis in time, to the state government.
The three suspended officials are the Medical Superintendent of North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, and the Chief Medical Officers of Health (CMOH) of the Darjeeling and Jalapiguri districts.
"Those who were in charge at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital and CMOH did not provide information to the government at the right time," said Banerjee, who is also the Health Minister of the state, at a news conference. "We have immediately suspended them and sought clarification from them."
The Chief Minister said that there have been 74 deaths due to the disease, while the health officials maintain that there have been 118 deaths.
However, what medical officials (who wished to remain anonymous) from Kolkata and North Bengal revealed to The Telegraph, shows something completely different from what the CM seems to be claiming.
According to these officials, the first case of Japanese Encephalitis was reported way back in January, by some Health Assistants, when they found the signs of the disease (convulsions and unconsciousness) in a patient who had previously been diagnosed with fever.
This report, after going through some levels, made its way to the CMOH, who forwarded them to Swastha Bhavan in Kolkata. Multiple reports on the disease have made their way to the Swastha Bhavan, since January, according to these officials.
In Swastha Bhavan, these reports were all eventually forwarded to the Director of Health Services (DHS), who is responsible for the up keeping of public health. The DHS works under the Health Secretary, who in turn, works under the Health Minister, i.e. Banerjee. Yet she maintains that she only came to know of this disease about a week back.
"We would have nipped the problem in the bud, if we were informed on time," she explained.
Monthly meetings on public health are held at the Swastha Bhavan. The unnamed health official believes that the matter of Japanese Encephalitis should have been brought up in the meeting in January itself. The reports in the subsequent months (January to June) showed an exponential increase in the number of encephalitis cases detected in north Bengal. However, Swastha Bhavan did not recognise this as a real emergency till 10 July.
Mamata Plans to Round off "Urban Pigs" in North Bengal
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Banerjee, lamented the lack of manpower to remove pigs, animals that are believed to carry the disease.
"We do not have the manpower we need," she told local vernacular daily, Anandabazar Patrika. "These same people run the administration, conduct cyber crime investigations, regulate crowd in the (Durga) Pujas and Eid, catch thieves, and now they will also have to round off pigs."
"The pigs that live in the villages are good. Its the pigs that roam around in the city, stay in absolutely unhygienic areas. They live near humans. These are the problematic pigs," she added.