Infections reported mostly from north Chennai; preventive measures not yet put in place

With the recent spate of rains, the number of acute diarrhoeal disease (ADD) cases have shot up in August and September, with many reported from overcrowded localities and illegal settlements along water bodies.

While the disease, caused by a gastrointestinal infection usually peaks during the monsoon months, public health officials expect the numbers this year to surpass figures from this time last year.

Contamination of Metrowater-supplied drinking water by overflowing sewage is the primary reason, they say. Food contaminated by the rain also contributes to infections.

The Chennai Corporation however, seems to have been lax in responding to what can turn into a public health crisis. Of the 200 wards in the city, at least 70 lack dedicated sanitary inspectors to check chlorine levels in Metrowater pipelines – chlorinated water helps in keeping infections at bay. As a result, the existing 130 workers have been saddled with the additional task of attending to these wards, stretching themselves thin.

In the last few weeks, ADD attacks have been reported from Korukkupet, Tondiarpet, Pulianthope, Basin Bridge, Vysarpadi, Tiruvottiyur and Kasimedu. But so far, nothing has been done in these localities to control the situation.

To collate the data on ADD cases, the Corporation relies on reports from 112 of its hospitals, 26 government hospitals and 716 known private hospitals. As a majority of them fail to report ADD cases on time, the figures available with the Corporation do not reflect the magnitude of the problem, a senior public health official said.

Corporation officials should pressure these hospitals into scrupulously furnishing details of such cases so that high-risk areas can be identified and intervention effected, he added.

The civic body has 10,000 chlorine tables ready be distributed in each of the 15 zones. With intermittent rain lashing the city, these tablets should have been distributed by now. Even the usual awareness programmes, routinely organised during the rainy season, largely to inculcate safe practices such as filtering and roll-boiling drinking water, have made a delayed entry this year.

Also, there has been no major drive yet to control unlicensed food business operators — a large contributor to infections, experts say.

Another laxity involves the lack of coordination among government agencies that can deal with ADD in neighbourhoods, including Metrowater and the public health department.

Some of these measures involve long-term planning and policy-level changes. But what could be done now is field-level intervention: which means more public health workers and a will from councillors to watch out for ADD in their backyards.

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