The Political Vitriol Over Mosquito Deaths In Delhi Is Deplorable, And It Needs to Stop

“Prevention should be so routine that it should not depend on the vagaries of politics."

14/09/2016 9:09 AM IST | Updated 14/09/2016 10:39 PM IST
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Politicians, including members of the ruling party, and city administration officials have been indulging in a vicious blame game while people in Delhi are dying of dengue and chikungunya.

The two mosquito-borne viral diseases have been raging in Delhi for some time now. For well over a month, wards of hospitals, both public and private, have been overflowing with patients. Tragically, some in the nation's capital have succumbed to the infection.

North Delhi Mayor Sanjeev Kumar's response to the first dengue fatality in Delhi this year was to blame the Delhi government as the patient had died in a city hospital. Satyendra Jain, the Health Minister of Delhi, responded by saying that it was the responsibility of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to take care of sanitation.

Chikungunya-related fatalities this week have also prompted callous remarks from those in position of power and responsibility. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, said that all power rests with the Prime Minister and the Lieutenant General (LG) of Delhi, and leveled accusations against two journalists who chided Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for being preoccupied with elections in other states.

There are no words to describe this never-ending blame game over preventable deaths caused by the negligence and apathy of those manning the state apparatus.

This blame game between the MCD, which has been run by the BJP for a decade, and the Delhi government, currently run by AAP which was voted in with absolute majority in 2015, was routine even when the Congress party was in power. But the overarching tug-of-war between the Central government, where the BJP is in power, and the Delhi government has made the exchange vitriolic. The escalating war of words was reflected in Kejriwal's tweet on Tuesday, in which he said that he didn't even have the power to buy a pen, prompting BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra to call for his resignation.

When it was pointed out that Chief Minister Kejriwal and some of his minister were not in the city, AAP responded by saying that Najeeb Jung, the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi, was also visiting the UK.

While the Chief Minister and his fellow party members were giving vent to their wrath against "top boss" Jung, and the BJP was goading Kejriwal, experts point out that all this noise was only drawing attention away from a host of micro and macro issues, such as the lack of sanitation workers, inadequate attention being given to prevention in the health sector, and the lengthy mechanism for transferring funds, which doesn't work when dealing with a disease outbreak.

"This is something that should be above politics, whether you are in BJP or AAP," Sujatha Rao, the former union health secretary, who dealt with the dengue outbreak during 2010, told HuffPost India. "You fight over other issues, but not over the health of the people. Why, tomorrow Modi may get Chikungunya or malaria."

"Prevention should be so routine that it should not depend on the vagaries of politics," she said.

Prevention should be so routine that it should not depend on the vagaries of politics.

In Delhi, the MCD and its sanitation workers are responsible for removing garbage, eliminating breeding grounds for mosquitoes and fumigating neighbourhoods in order to prevent mosquito-borne diseases, while the Delhi government must release funds to the MCD so that it can carry out these functions. On the other hand, the Public Works Department, which is under the Delhi government, is responsible for cleaning the big drains and nallahs in the city. The Delhi government also has to ensure that hospitals have enough beds and equipment to take care of sick patients. Both the Delhi government and the MCD are responsible for the vital task of spreading awareness about steps to prevent the outbreak and spread of these diseases.

It is routine for the MCD to blame the Delhi government for either not releasing funds at all or not releasing funds on time, which over the years has hit back with allegations of corruption and inefficiency in the municipal body.

The reason for the AAP government's frustrations are understandable because the MCD and its role is less well-known to the the public and, unaware of the limitations to what the government can do, people tend to blame it for administrative dysfunction. Meanwhile, the MCD, plagued by lack of workers and funds, has failed to combat the mosquito menace, blaming everything from water coolers to the Commonwealth Games of 2010 for it.

Rao noted that controlling mosquito-related diseases is almost entirely about prevention. "This media portrayal is absolutely false. The issue is how can dengue be controlled. If you actually have a minister or a secretary walking around hospitals and monitoring, that means the whole system under them has collapsed," she said.

If you actually have a minister or a secretary walking around hospitals and monitoring, that means the whole system under them has collapsed.

The former bureaucrat also pointed out that while decentralization, delegation of responsibility and providing finance is a political responsibility, it is the administration which is responsible for day to day management.

"What will Kejriwal do if he is sitting in Punjab or in Delhi," she said. "Do you see Obama running around hospitals over Zika cases, no, and that is because they have systems in place."

Last year, a seven-year-old boy died of dengue in Delhi even though his parents had tried desperately to get him admitted into the hospitals in their area. Unable to deal with the grief, his parents killed themselves.

But this horrifying incident seems to have had little effect. A year later, dengue is raging in the city, and to silence his critics, the Delhi chief minister feels the need to point out that a man who died from Chikungunya in a Delhi hospital this week was from Ghaziabad.

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