SHORTAGE OF HEALTH STAFF EXACERBATES DENGUE THREAT

Mohammad Affanul Haque

Chennai, Nov. 19: In the aftermath of the monsoon, dengue and other infectious diseases pose a serious threat but the Chennai Corporation’s Health Department is facing a dearth of officials to monitor mosquito control operations. 

Key positions including that of the city health officer, chief vector control officer, zonal health officers (nine), 56 medical officers in urban primary health centers and 45 ward level sanitary inspectors continue to be vacant. The existing staff, who are holding these additional responsibilities, say they are overburdened with the monitoring of the 150-plus Amma canteens in the city hospitals. 

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“It is often alleged that the actual number of dengue cases is higher than what the Chennai Corporation cites. However, the number of dengue cases recorded by the corporation increased from 133 in 2013 to 137 in 2014. This year the civic body has already recorded 96 dengue cases”, added Dr. Palani.

Dr. N A Senthil Nathan, the Additional Health Officer at Chennai Corporation being sanguine about the situation said, “There is some shortage in the Health Department, but the government has identified these vacancies, and these will be duly filled by suitable people soon. In fact, doctors have already been appointed for the key positions of Zonal Health Officers and Chief Vector Control Officer”.

For a city that needs a sanitary inspector in each of its 200 wards, 45 such posts are vacant, and those designated largely manage the Amma canteens in the hospitals leaving the city’s sanitation in a mess. These sanitary inspectors are responsible to contain mosquito and rodent menace, conduct raids on eateries purportedly selling un-healthy food and check quality of water supplied in the city.

Dr. A Elangovan, Resident Medical Officer at the Government Royapettah Hospital said, “Chennai has been witnessing a spurt in incidence of fever and other diseases generally found during monsoon season. Lack of adequate number of doctors to provide medicare is one of the main reasons behind the outbreak of diseases”.

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Blaming the government for neglecting the public health sector, Dr. Elangoven added, “The government has been following the staff pattern of the 1960s, undermining the need to recruit more employees in tandem with the growth in population.”

Dr. Palani said that the staff crunch in the department will affect the supervision and monitoring of dengue control measures. “The services of public health officers should not be diverted to other work including running of Amma canteens. The corporation should appoint eligible officers on an emergency”, he added.

Dismissing the notion that Primary Health Centers (PHCs) refuse treatment to patients, Dr. Nathan said, “We never refuse treatment to the patients. We only refer the serious cases to the private hospitals”.

“The rains in the past week have lessened the number of dengue cases in the hospitals recently. But with so much water-logging, mosquitoes are bound to breed and soon more cases will be bought to the hospital. We are trying our best to deal with dengue cases”, sighed a worried Dr. Nathan.

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Chennai may be hailed as the hub of medical tourism, but as per the Rural Health Statistics 2015, released by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; it reveals that there is an 85 per cent shortfall when it comes to specialist doctors at all 78 Community Health Centers (CHCs) in the city.

The statistics show that there are no specialists including obstetricians, gynecologists and pediatricians at any of the CHCs in the city.

Dr. Nathan agreed that there is some shortage of specialists doctors in PHCs, but said that the specialist doctors don’t prefer joining PHCs or CHCs because it is the third tier of health care institution. They are usually hired by private hospitals in the city.

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