‘Cholera’ outbreak kills over ‘60’ in Bastar

Yet violence continues unabated in affected-areas

An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or ‘tiffin bomb’ was found near Basaguda, in whose block there have been around 115 suspected cases of cholera over the last month.

This article appears in its original form on the 9th of July, 2010.

A suspected cholera outbreak has killed around an estimated 60 people in Bijapur District of South Bastar, Chhattisgarh since the beginning of the 7th of June this year when the first fatality was confirmed in Gadiguda village in Pamed Block.

At the same time, there has been no cessation of violence between the Maoists and the police. On the 6th of July, according to the local police, a gunfight had taken place near the village of Basaguda where a health clinic is set-up, and the police recovered an IED, or a ‘tiffin bomb’. There were no casualties on either side.

‘We were on patrol when we saw them, they fired upon us and ran away.’ Says Assistant Sub Inspector Patle of Basaguda police station, holding the detonator of the ‘tiffin bomb’ he recovered in the encounter. The ‘tiffin’ is filled with stones and scraps of metal, and according to the villagers of Basaguda, the police found the bomb buried in the earth.

‘There might be an operation tonight,’ Said ASI Chauhan from Avapalli police station on the 7th of July, ‘And I can’t share any other details with you.’

However, there were no reported encounters by the police or by the Maoists on the night of the 7th of July, but again in the dead of night, on the 8th of July, on the last day of the two-day bandh, the Maoists had fired onto Basaguda police station. There were again no casualties reported.

Meanwhile, the government claims that 38 people were killed by diarrhoea, and not cholera, and that fact is disputed by numerous independent sources working in the field.

The village of Kothaguda for instance in Pusbaka Panchayat of Basaguda block lists only three fatalities over the last 10 days in the official government list, yet Venkat Lakshmi, an angaanbaadi worker who had worked in the village to control the outbreak lists those three names along with a total of nine fatalities, including those of three children under the age of five. Those six names aren’t included in the official government list.

For instance, Avlam Bhime (35) and her son Avlam Raju (3) of Kothaguda died on the same day, before any medical care could get to them and thus there is no record of their death. The MOH itself lists around 16 fatalities in Basaguda block in the recent outbreak out of which 10 fatalities alone come from the village of Chinnagelur, near Tarem village.

The Bijapur District Program Manager for the National Rural Health Mission, Mausam G. Muske, has also confirmed the fatalities have taken place where the health teams couldn’t access the villagers.

‘The important thing is to access these areas, and we’re low on man power.  There are 64 villagers in Usur block itself, and we sent people to wherever we’ve heard about cases of diarrhoea.’ He says.

Yet most of the fatalities have taken place on account of inaccessible terrain further in the jungle and contrary to local media reports there aren’t 80 patients in the rehydration camps in Basaguda or Usur. But the outbreak is still widespread and specifically, out of reach.

‘We managed to save the life of every person who made it to a health clinic.’ Continues Mausam, ‘We’ve followed protocol by WHO standards and treated patients for cholera,’ he says, yet many officials, refute that there’s an outbreak of cholera, even though numerous other doctors and health workers in the field have diagnosed cases of cholera.

As per official records, there were 168 DVD cases (Dysentery-Vomiting-Diarrhoea) treated in Pamed block, while 115 were treated in Basaguda block and 14 were treated in Usur block.

It is yet unclear whether ground water is contaminated or the rivulets that run through a majority of the villages. The three affected blocks, Basaguda, Pamed and Usur, border Andhra Pradesh are also highly sensitive areas, known to harbour a strong Maoist presence, and many of these areas are even ‘liberated zones.’

The response to the outbreak was relatively quick – numerous clinics were set-up in Usur, Avapalli and Basaguda by the MOH and independent NGOs and organizations. Volunteers were selected to travel into the ‘interior villages’ and educate people on the illness and more importantly, to put in place preventive measures to control the outbreak.

‘Patients used to come to the clinic at even nine in the night on bell-gaadi,’ says Satish Kumar Nayak, Rural Medical Assistant, running one of the clinics in Basaguda. He is now one of the few healthcare workers left in Basaguda block, along with reputed international organization Doctors Without Borders. Many organisations and volunteers were recalled by the state before the two-day bandh was announced by the Maoists in response to the killing of top politburo member Azad. Yet the New Indian Express travelled through the area without any incident, nor harassment by the Maoists. And many observers believe that the government didn’t need to recall the medical teams as the Maoists aren’t known to harass health workers.

And according to some sources, the temporary clinic set-up in Basaguda village may turn into a permanent clinic due to the high influx of patients from across the block.

Cholera is not the only illness ailing Basaguda block. In the village of Lingagiri, two villagers, Angela Allama (40) w/o Naga, and Chandra Sukli (60) w/o Malaiya are bedridden and incapable of moving. Doctors Without Borders had apparently referred their cases to Jagdalpur’s Maharani Hospital, but the villages do not have the money to take them there.

A bus runs from Basaguda to Jagdalpur and the ticket costs Rs.130, which would run a minimum cost of Rs.520 for a patient and one family member to make the round trip. As it is, the bus hasn’t been running for two days due to the bandh announced by the Maoists.

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