New Delhi. - The Indian capital Delhi is in the grip of the most severe outbreak of Dengue fever for six years. Until the end of September officially 17 persons were reported to have died, unofficially the death toll crossed 70. Hospitals refusing to admit dengue-patients and the death of a 6-year old after being denied treatment in five hospitals in South Delhi sparked an outcry over the state of public health services in the capital.
Since then the government tried to ensure that there are enough beds available in hospitals and that health staff admits dengue-patients. Delhi-residents are asked to destroy any potential breeding ground for mosquitos and intensive fogging as well as household inspections are carried out in most Delhi neighbourhoods. The leaves and vacation days of all doctors were cancelled and special fever clinics were started across the city.
"The magnitude is much higher than previous years. We are doing our best to ensure there is no laxity from our end. But the state government failed us. The budget was provided to us late. We had to increase our own health budget for dengue. If we had received the money earlier, some preventive measures could have been taken," Subhash Arya, mayor of South Delhi Municipal Corporation told Mail Today.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejrwal recently wrote a personal letter to residents of Delhi telling them not to worry. Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said the situation is under control and there is no need for panic. But then there are the headlines such as "Delhi – Dengue Capital" and the daily infection countdown. The unofficial and official counting of death cases adds to the confusion.
There are educational and awareness raising ads in the streets and in newspapers. And many pharmacies have stopped the sale of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or blood thinners such as aspirin and ibuprofen without prescriptions from registered medical practitioners, as the medicines lower the blood platelet count, fatal for dengue-patients. There have been reports of self-medication causing deaths.
Still misleading and inconsistent information gets out, e.g. a guru suggests people should rely on ayurvedic products only or that dengue is contagious. A politician who refused to let his house to be investigated and fogged triggered more distrust in the cities´ ability to handle the situation.
On top of that, according to a survey around 89 per cent of slum residents in Delhi do not even have any access to healthcare. Although there are supposed to be more than 1000 health institutions in Delhi, they are out of reach for many.