At a time when encephalitis has claimed 212 lives — two more succumbed to Japanese Encephalitis in last 24 hours —- in West Bengal, the state is witnessing a serious dearth of entomologists, with no such expert being stationed in North Bengal districts where the outbreak is the most severe.
“For the last 15 years, there had been no recruitment of entomologists in the health service facilities in the districts. I can’t tell the reason. But this is a fact. Although at the state health department headquarters here we have a few entomologists, there is none in the districts,” state health secretary Moloy De said.
According to state health officials, an entomologist’s job is to visit areas where there has been an outbreak of vector-borne disease. Encephalitis and its deadly variant Japanese Encephalitis, a mosquito-borne viral infection, has claimed more than 200 lives in the state, especially in north Bengal, and many more have been admitted to hospitals suffering from the disease.
According to health officials, presently there are no entomologists in the districts, especially in north Bengal where the outbreak is the most severe.
Director of Health Services B R Satpathy too accepted that no recruitment had taken place in the districts for several years. He, however, said, “We have taken measures to tackle this manpower shortage problem.”
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De noted that the state health department had already sanctioned recruitment of entomologists on contract in the districts to tackle the problem. “The decision was taken long before the outbreak of encephalitis. It will be implemented soon,” he said.
According to De, last year the state government had, under the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, sought sanctioning of 20 entomologists for the state. “But only one post was sanctioned. This year we will again apply for 20 posts. Let us see what happens,” he said.
Asked how the health department is tackling the situation in the districts in the absence of entomologists, Satpathy said, “At the health department headquarters we have some entomologists. Also, we at times take the help of four entomologists employed with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation”.
Satpathy, however, said that there had been no new cases of encephalitis reported in Kolkata. “The borough-wise monitoring committees are keeping a tab on illegal cowsheds and sties while undertaking a door-to-door campaign, spreading awareness about the disease,” he said, adding that all the five medical colleges in the city have been asked to maintain cleanliness to put a check on breeding grounds of mosquitoes.
A special surveillance team led by Dr Subrata Moitra has already started working for early detections of such cases. “We have started a second round of surveillance at Midnapore and the team would soon visit North Bengal,” he said.