Odisha Sun Times Bureau:
Bhubaneswar, Dec 24:
Is the jaundice epidemic in Western Odisha town of Sambalpur man-made? Going by the report submitted by the Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC) to state government almost a year ago, this precisely is what appears to be the case.
The RMRC report had warned that jaundice virus was present in the water samples of eight out the 12 districts for which tests were condcuted. Despite this report, which should have alerted it to the garvity of the situation, the Health department sat on it allowing jaundice to assume epidemic proportions and leading to the death of at least 21 people in the Sambalpur so far.
As per the RMRC report, 570 water samples collected from these eight districts – Bargarh, Balangir, Kalahandi, Cuttack, Nayagarh, Khurda, Kendrapara, and Jagatsinghpur – during a two-day tour by a team of experts from the premier research centre in the state were found susceptible to contamination. RMRC had advised the state government to take immediate steps to contain the infection as around 18 per cent people in these areas had contracted the disease.
A poor drainage system and damaged water supply pipelines appeared to be the main reason behind the jaundice outbreak and spread of the disease in the town, having a population of nearly two lakh. Due to leakage in the rusty water supply pipelines, the drain water seeped through and contaminated water meant for drinking.
“The water supply pipeline from river Mahanadi to Sambalpur town goes through drainage channels. Besides this, the pipeline also travels through a lowly field in which waste water logs during rainy season. These could be the primary sources of contamination,” Dr Shantanu Kumar Kar, RMRC Director, said.
The water supplied to the areas where incidents of jaundice have not been reported should be treated immediately so as to restrict the infection. In addition to this, the water supplied from river Mahanadi should be stopped and treated before being supplied as potable water. The prevalent ward-wise purification of water would not help restrict the spread of infection, RMRC had advised in its report.
As per reports, in June this year, cases of jaundice were reported in Sambalpur. However in December, the state government asked RMRC to conduct an on-field survey. During the two-day survey on December 9 and 10, it collected 49 water samples which found a whopping 71 per cent of the populace infected.
In the meantime, the CDMO has sent four water sample containers of ten litres each to a Pune-based laboratory. “After the report is received we would give a comprehensive report to the government,” Dr Kar informed.
With the jaundice epidemic assuming alarming proportions in Sambalpur with 24 fresh cases reported on Tuesday, serious questions arise as to why the state government did not act on the RMRC report submitted a year ago. Why did the Health department and district administration officials go slow on arresting the water-borne disease?
Meanwhile, a PIL has been filed in Odisha High Court seeking its intervention into the epidemic. Alleging medical negligence and inadequate medical facility that caused the jaundice deaths, the petitioner urged the court to provide compensation to the deceased and direct the state government to take adequate steps to control the disease.
State Health Secretary, District Collector, CDMO, Sambalpur Municipality Commissioner, Sambalpur Municipality Health Officer, Pollution Control Board Regional Officer, Sambalpur PhD Executive Engineer have been made respondents in the case.