It's time plague sheds its horror image

Published: Friday 15 March 2002

If nothing else, the incidence of plague in Himachal Pradesh served to focus attention on the entire gamut of disease management in the country. At the end of it, at least one message was clear -- plague is really no big deal. Given a good surveillance system and prompt medical attention, there is no reason why even a highly contagious disease cannot be contained. But then, are we really equipped for it or was this time round just a lucky one.

As India's who representative Kim Farley said at the official confirmation of the Himachal plague, there is no reason why the disease should make headlines or set in panic. Unfortunately, the mere mention of its name evokes medieval images of horror and death accompanying an invasion of dirty sewer and rats. In fact, though potentially fatal, plague is completely curable if diagnosed early. Over 2,000 cases of plague are reported world over every year, 10-15 in North America alone. Plague will prevail wherever and as long as wild rodents exist. Yet, in our country, panic buttons are immediately triggered, and reactions take on a fevered pitch. This is where awareness and education would help. After all, diseases like plague are completely curable. Provided they are tackled on time. In the us, for instance, improved sanitation and surveillance technology have limited the disease to areas with wild rodent population.

This time in Himachal, despite a firefighting strategy being adopted, we did lose four precious lives. Something a long term strategy can help avoid. But then, given the state of our health care facilities, it is a surprise many more incidents are not reported. Though the health minister was quick to take the credit for successfully "containing" the outbreak in Himachal, the extremely cold weather and snow are the lucky factors. But we may not be so lucky the next time around.

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