over the past few months, a measles-like disease has claimed more than 200 lives -- mostly of children -- in Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh. While the large number of deaths has finally spurred local authorities into action, health officials of the Union government still seem blissfully unaware about the epidemic.
The mystery disease broke out in August 2003. It assumed epidemic proportions by the beginning of January 2004 because of negligence and lack of medical facilities, alleges local activist group Tirap Changlang Human Rights Organisation (tichro). The common symptoms of the disease, which generally kills patients within a few days of the attack, are fever, cough, chest pain, vomiting and dysentery.
Some of the worst affected villages include Lajo, Longliant, Upper Kolam, Lower Kolam, Pongkong, Upper Kothung and Lower Kothung. When representatives of tichro visited Lajo -- the biggest village in the area -- in November 2003, villagers demanded medical facilities, an immediate immunisation drive and better sanitation.
Lajo circle has just one primary healthcare centre and even this does not have a regular doctor posted in it. Villagers also complained that the circle officer, their sole link with the district administration, remained absent and they couldn't register their grievances.
tichro coordinator Jawang Sumpa says it is only now that state authorities have taken some steps to control the situation. A team of doctors has been sent to the area.The help of the Army Medical Corps has also been sought.
For his part, state home minister L Wanglat appears to be taking refuge in alibis. He has reportedly said that traditional systems of medicine and lack of hygiene and awareness among people are responsible for the spread of the disease. Incidentally, Wanglat hails from Tirap and is also in charge of its development. Meanwhile, B M Das, an official in the Union ministry of health and family welfare, claims: "We do not have any information about the epidemic."