Kolkata: Even today, the West Bengal government told the Calcutta High Court that 19 people have died of dengue this year, a figure the opposition parties contest furiously. But behind the number crunching is a grim truth -- that the health system is simply not equipped to cope.
Today is a good day, said the staff at a primary health centre at Deganga. Patients with fever are down, from 1,500 a day 10 days ago to some 1,000 now. But they are still streaming in.
22-year-old Nooruddin is the latest dengue patient at the 15-bed health centre. No stretcher or trolley for him, he is brought in to the ward in the arms of his elder brother. There are mosquito nets covering all the patients in the ward.
Most patients are on saline. A nurse comes in to give Nooruddin saline too. She finds a vein but then the staff realise they don't have a stand to hang the bottle on. One is pulled out from somewhere. But a crucial bolt is missing. A man tries to stuff paper into the gap. It doesn't work.
Besides an administrator, the centre has two doctors and two nurses normally. Over the last couple of weeks, the number has been doubled to deal with dengue patients. But they are still stretched.
Tripti Haldar, the Senior Nurse at the centre, says, "We are equipped to give oxygen and saline to labour patients. But for critical care handling, we have no infrastructure. We have been working very hard the last couple of months. The superintendent has fallen ill."
Not equipped to cope with the number, critical cases are sent off to the one big hospital at Barasat in North 24 Parganas district with a population of one crore.
But then Barasat hospital gets stressed. Abdus Sattar's 15-year-old son, for instance, was admitted Saturday last with fever, but there is no blood report on whether he has dengue or not.
"I am wondering if I should move him to a private hospital," said Mr Sattar, waiting for an update on his son's health. "May be he will get better treatment there. The doctor came yesterday and saw him but he hasn't come yet today and it is past 2."
A doctor from this same Barasat Hospital was suspended last week for a social media post on feeling overwhelmed by the number of patients and compelled not to write dengue as cause of death. The government felt his posts were derogatory to the administration.
But seven organisations of government and private doctors marched to the health department today, claiming they were being terrorised by the government's determination not to be upfront about the dengue deaths.
"There is a fear psychosis among doctors. You can write some causes of death which eventually mean dengue. But doctors are being pushed to do that," said Dr Rezaul Karim, a government doctor who is a member of the WB Doctors Forum. "And no, there is no written instruction that I can show you. But the pressure is there."
This dengue season is almost over. But West Bengal's health system is stuck in a rut, say doctors. It has 1.2 lakh beds, but needs 2.5 lakh; has 13,500 doctors, but needs double the strength, and has 1,000 health centres but needs a thousand more.