RAWALPINDI: The Punjab health department and the district administration turned a blind eye to the warning from dengue experts about a spike in the dengue cases this year which resulted in the outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease in Rawalpindi.

The health department’s Dengue Expert Advisory Group (DEAG) had warned early this year that there could be a spike in the dengue cases in 2019 as it happened after every four years.

More than 4,000 dengue patients reported to the three government hospitals from March to Sept 22 this year and their number continued to rise. Experts feared that the number of patients will increase manifold till the end of November.

Unlike previous administrations, there was no plan in place this year to eliminate larvae in time

Ill-planning by the health department and local administration was the main reason behind the influx of such a large number of patients to the hospitals.

Former deputy commissioner Chaudhry Mohammad Ali Randhawa was removed from the post over the spread of the dengue virus.

Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar asked the health department to conduct an inquiry and fix responsibility for the dengue spike in the last week of September but no inquiry has been initiated yet.

Sources said the district health authority, the provincial health department and hospitals failed to make plans for dengue larvae elimination and patient management in the three hospitals due to lack of interest.

They said former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had formulated standard operating procedures (SOPs) after two dengue spikes in 2011 and 2015 and asked the dengue hit districts such as Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi to implement it.

However, during the last one year the department ignored the SoPs as there was no check and balance on it from the Chief Minister Secretariat.

“The administration, which was supposed to work from March to April to eliminate the dengue larvae, failed to do the job,” a senior official of the district administration told Dawn.

He said the health authority and other civic bodies conducted activities from March to April 2018 for elimination of dengue larvae, sprayed anti-dengue medicines in low lying areas and created awareness among the citizens about the safety measures.

However, this year the activities were not carried out in the areas and people were involved in the activity without giving proper training to them.

“As a result, Rawalpindi became a dengue hit area. Reports about non-existence of larvae were found fake when 50 patients arrived in hospitals from Dhoke Munshi Union Council in mid-August. The anti-dengue teams had declared this area free from dengue larvae in April,” he said.

He said anti-dengue medicine arrived in August and after the arrival of dengue patients in hospitals the district administration took it seriously and procured more equipment for fogging.

“The absence of the District Health Authority (DHA) chief executive officer was another reason as there was no person to monitor the work of anti-dengue campaign. Dr Mohammad Rashid was given the additional charge of DHA chief executive officer but later he was sent to Haj with the provincial team and the deputy health officer was given the charge of the chief executive officer,” he said.

Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid did not hold any meeting with the district administration and hospitals management to make a plan, he added.

“The minister held a meeting in last week of August in Rawalpindi and appointed Dr Sohail Ahmed as the chief executive officer,” he said.

On the other hand, during the last eight years the hospitals made three to four plans to deal with dengue patients.

A senior doctor at the Holy Family Hospital said three to four plans were prepared in the past. If 70 to 110 patients arrived in a hospital they would be treated in a special ward and if the number increased the eye and ENT wards would be used and the eye and ENT patients would be treated in the emergency department.

However, this year no such plan was made and as a result the hospital had to lay beds in its corridors.

Additional Deputy Commissioner (headquarters) Saima Younas said the district administration was working to eliminate the dengue virus but due to change in weather system the number of patients increased.

Rawalpindi Medical University (RMU) Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Mohammad Umer said the three hospitals were managing the patients and increasing the space to accommodate more patients.

He said there was no difference between planning in the past years and the current year as the hospital was working on the SOPs issued by the government.

He said doctors were not only giving medical care to the patients but also training doctors of other hospitals to treat the patients.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2019