While everyone's attention is on Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh, where 62 people, mostly children, have died due to a outbreak of fever believed to be dengue, in neighbouring Agra district, an underprivileged family lost two toddlers to ‘fever’. Three more children are still in hospital. Here's a Gaon Connection report.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Leaning against the dilapidated wall of her dingy one-room house whose blue paint had chipped off to expose the bricks underneath, 25-year-old Rinki Baghel sat listless on the cemented floor. Surrounded by a couple of relatives, who had come to mourn the death of her two young kids – three-year old Pari and two-year-old Anshu – Rinki sat with an expressionless face, as she continued to gaze at the floor.
The young mother was caught between utter despair and a faint hope. In the past 48 hours, she had lost her two kids, while her three other children were admitted at two private hospitals in Agra in Uttar Pradesh where they were undergoing treatment for bukhaar (fever) that had already claimed two young lives of the Baghel family in the past two days.
With sunken eyes that seemed to have not slept a wink in the past few days, Rinki, a resident of Mahadevi Nagar in Agra, told Gaon Connection that her three children were battling for their lives in two different hospitals where they were admitted.
Her husband, 31-year-old Vipin Baghel, had just returned home after burying their two-year-old son. “I cremated my two children on two consecutive days,” the ill-fated father told Gaon Connection.
“My daughter (three-year old Pari) went cold in my arms on September 15 as I was rushing her from one hospital to another looking for treatment, while my son (two-year-old Anshu) passed away yesterday (September 16) at a private hospital. Bahut buri haalat hai, bhaiya (we are in a terrible situation, brother),” the helpless father lamented.
Rinki and Vipin are not a one-off set of parents who have lost their young kids to bukhaar in Uttar Pradesh. Thousands of desperate parents across various districts of the state are rushing their children to health centres – government, private or quacks– as kids continue to fall prey to ‘fever’, believed to be a dengue outbreak, which has gripped the state.
In Firozabad, about 47 kilometres from Agra, at least 62 people have died due to ‘fever’, most of whom are children. Local people claim the real death toll would be much higher. Gaon Connection has been reporting on this fever outbreak in Firozabad and its surrounding districts.
Reports of children falling prey to the fever are also pouring in from other states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. The symptoms of the disease range from fever to stomach ache to diarrhoea, body ache and weakness. Several patients are complaining of a drop in the blood platelet count, which is commonly associated with dengue.
Vipin, who sells momos on a roadside cart to earn a living, told Gaon Connection that the doctors had told him that his kids had died of dengue but he had still not got the death summary reports indicating the reason for death in writing.
Gaon Connection tried to contact Arun Srivastava, chief medical officer (CMO) of Agra but all the phone calls went unanswered. According to documents accessed by Gaon Connection, 52 cases of suspected dengue infection have been registered in Agra. Of those, 20 are of children below the age of 15 years.
Vipin said that the biggest challenge he faced as he fought to save his children’s lives was the utter lack of accessible healthcare facilities. Apart from the two kids who died, their three siblings — Shalu (8), Rashi (6), and Chirag (7) — are at present admitted in two different hospitals in Agra. They all have bukhaar, which seems to be dengue, but there is no official confirmation yet.
Meanwhile, Vipin’s 22-year-old sister Somwati, is also admitted in another government hospital with dengue-like symptoms.
A number of ‘fever’ patients in neighbouring Firozabad are being referred to Agra for treatment. On September 6, Gaon Connection met Rajkumari who was also waiting outside the district hospital in Firozabad to get the death certificate of her five-year-old daughter signed. “My daughter died of dengue on August 28 at nine in night… The doctors said that my daughter’s condition was serious and I should take her to Agra. But my daughter died,” the mother said.
Like her several parents were complaining of lack of timely treatment to their severely sick children.
Deaths of kids in Mahadevi Nagar in Agra have pushed the district administration to act. On September 17 when Gaon Connection visited Baghel family, which had lost two children, an earthmover was busy clearing off the rotting garbage while puddles of stagnant water and open drains dotted the neighborhood.
“This is ward number 28 and the locality is Mahadevi Nagar. We have launched a cleanliness campaign in the area after two kids died of a mystery fever,” Neeraj Singh, Sanitary & Food Inspector of the Agra Nagar Nigam (municipal body), who was overseeing the sanitation exercise in the area, told Gaon Connection. “Drains are being cleaned, anti-larva chemicals are being sprayed on stagnant water. Fumigation is also underway,” he added.
The sanitary inspector also informed that a vishesh safai abhiyaan (special sanitation mission) was being launched in the area.
However, Vipin, the father of the two deceased children, complained that mosquitoes were everywhere around his household.
Similar voices emerged from the neighbouring households in Mahadevi Nagar. “It is the first time that the authorities have taken cognisance of the unhygienic conditions in the area and never before has such a cleanliness drive ever been launched,” 25-year-old Pushpendra Tomar, Vipin’s neighbour, told Gaon Connection
“Kids from poor families regularly play in the area. There are a lot of empty plots here where rainwater has accumulated,” Tomar complained. “There is no arrangement for waste disposal and garbage from the households is dumped openly. The authorities must ensure regular sanitation in the area,” he added.
While children continue to die due to ‘fever’ outbreak in Uttar Pradesh, the state government has dispatched a team of 15 medical experts to the Firozabad district in order to investigate the reasons behind the rise in the dengue cases.
Led by G S Vajpayee, director of the health department in Firozabad district’s Shikohabad area, and a specialist in communicable diseases, the team is tasked with investigating the causes behind patients not receiving timely medical treatment.
Vajpayee accepted that there was indeed a shortage of health workers and assured the press that more doctors were being sent to help defuse the dengue outbreak crisis in Firozabad.
“We are also visiting households in the affected areas and taking measures to impede the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. Chemicals are being sprayed in these areas and people are being counselled to ensure that mosquito infestation does not occur,” Vajpayee told the press today (September 17).
Meanwhile, Sangeeta Aneja, principal of the medical college in Firozabad, was quoted as saying that the team was trying to work out ways for better treatment of patients and was making efforts to streamline the medical infrastructure in the district.
In mid-August when kids started dying due to fever in Firozabad, the deaths were blamed on a ‘mystery fever’. However, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which was tasked with investigating the outbreak, revealed on September 9 that the majority of the deaths were caused due to the ‘D2’ variant of dengue.
Balram Bhargava, the director-general of the ICMR told the press in a media briefing on September 9 that most of the deaths in Firozabad, Agra and Mathura were due to the type 2 strain of the dengue virus.
“Deaths in Mathura, Agra and Firozabad are due to dengue fever caused by D2 strain, which can cause haemorrhaging (internal bleeding) that could be fatal. Mosquito breeding should be checked urgently in the affected areas,” Bhargava had said in a press briefing.
The virus responsible for causing dengue, is called dengue virus and is denoted as DENV. There are four DENV serotypes and an infection by each of these ensures life long immunity against that particular serotype. It also means that it is possible to be infected four times by the virus. The four serotypes (also known as variants or strains) are: DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3 and DENV 4. Of these, DENV 2 is considered to be the most fatal.
While investigations are underway and committee after committee studies what is killing young children in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Rinki and Vipin, who have already lost their two kids, are hoping their three other kids return home, alive.
Written by Pratyaksh Srivastava