A Symptom of the Rot Within
ITarun Sehrawat’s death exposes the sickening truth about the condition of public and primary healthcare that
exists in rural India
F TARUN SEHRAWAT’S tragic death helps us put paid to the meaningless nostrum that simple people’s illnesses require simple remedies, then it will at least have served some larger purpose. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In recent months, it has come to our knowledge that a number of young journalists covering events in south Bastar have fallen prey to acute febrile illnesses of life-threatening intensity. Not all these episodes could be reliably ascribed to malaria, or indeed, any specific diagnosis. Similar episodes have occurred among paramilitary forces posted in this region. These illness episodes are important because they are indicative of the kind of milieu in which the ordinary citizens of these areas, with the same rights and entitlements as you or me, live out their lives — their infancy, their pregnancies, and their old age — all of them periods of special vulnerability. It is in these circumstances that women face the prospect of an anaemic labour without benefits of the possibility of Caesarian section, should the need arise.
Indicative, but of what? The common occurrence of these serious illnesses shows that appropriate conditions exist for the transmission of disease — that there are ample reserves of disease-causing organisms in the community, as well as large populations of pathogen-transmitting vectors. For example, in the case of cerebral malaria, this would mean that there are large reserves of Plasmodium falciparum in the community, as well as large populations of Anopheles species to transmit the disease. It would also mean that routine public health epidemiological surveillance to detect — and reliably report — levels of pathogen in the community is not in place. It would also mean that entomological measures to detect and control vector populations are absent. The same story is repeated, disease