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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

ARTICLE
AMIT SENGUPTA | 16 SEPTEMBER, 2015

THE DENGUE EPIDEMIC AND DEMISE OF PUBLIC HEALTHCARE

The tragic events culminating in the suicide of the parents of Avinash, a seven year old child who had succumbed to dengue fever, largely due to the apathy of a number of private hospitals, have laid bare the pathetic condition of health care services in Delhi. Subsequent to a public outcry the Delhi Government has announced a slew of measures to mitigate the impact of the current Dengue epidemic in Delhi. It is natural for a feeling of deja vu to engulf us as we watch the consequences of the Dengue epidemic unfold. Every 3-5 years the city is caught up in an epidemic of dengue fever, each time there is widespread panic among the population, each time the city’s health services prove utterly inadequate, and each year the administration’s belated attempts at mitigating the epidemic’s impact are largely cosmetic in nature.

Malaise afflicting country’s healthcare system

The cyclical dengue epidemics in Delhi are symptomatic of a much larger malaise that afflicts the country’s health care system. It is not as if Delhi is particularly prone to epidemics in comparison to other regions of the country. It is just that the collapse of the health care system in Delhi, in the face of a serious public health challenge, attracts more media and political attention. While not ignoring the seriousness of the current Dengue epidemic in Delhi, we need to remind ourselves that such public health challenges are the norm rather than the exception in all parts of the country. Epidemics of influenza, chikungunya, encephalitis, malaria and a host of other infective conditions cause thousands of deaths – most of them unnecessary if a responsive and well-resourced public health system were in place. Diseases like TB are perennial and have almost become a part of peoples’ lives.

What we see in Delhi is a microcosm of the entire country – a breakdown of health services due to callous disregard for public health. It is a situation that has been brought on by decades of government neglect and apathy, coupled with the predatory and unethical behaviour of the rapidly growing private healthcare sector.

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