Epidemic outbreak looms large as unhealthy living spaces mix with poor hygiene

The presence of inter-State migrant workers in every job sphere has thrown up a range of health and hygiene issues.

The State had an estimated 25 lakh migrant workers. The poor living conditions and poorer sanitation facilities in the largely unhygienic places where these workers lived necessitated urgent intervention by the Health Department and local bodies.

The Labour and Health Departments had been taking steps to bring to light and deal with such health and hygiene issues. The Health Department here had started preparing a baseline data on the migrant worker population in different parts of the district through Primary Health Centres.

Health survey

“We have already raised our concern over the poor hygiene and sanitation facilities available in places where migrant labourers live in large numbers,” District Medical Officer K.J. Reena said. Measures are being taken in view of the possibility of the outbreak of infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, and hepatitis A, Dr. Reena said adding that a health survey among the migrant worker population was planned. Official figures provided by Health officials here said there were 200 cases of malaria, 231 cases of hepatitis A (jaundice), and over 100 cases of dengue fever in the district last year. The number of malaria cases among migrant workers was high. Health awareness campaigns had been conducted in areas such as Valapattanam where migrant workers lived in large numbers to work in plywood factories. As these workers are largely floating, it was not easy to locate them, they said.

The rooms or buildings where the workers lived left a lot to be desired, D. Krishnanadha Pai, president, Malabar Cancer Care Society (MCCS), said.

Poor sanitation

MCCS had conducted medical camps for migrant labourers in the district as part of a targeted intervention project under the National AIDS Control Programme. They stayed in small rooms with no sanitation facilities, he said adding that the lack of such facilities posed a major health risk. The MCCS had conducted health education programmes for migrant workers, which included counselling sessions and medical camps.

The number of migrant workers had grown phenomenally since, Mr. Pai said. Pradeep Kumar Pradhaan from Odisha, in Kannur for nearly four years now, had lived with five other migrant workers from that State in a room hardly the size of a normal bedroom at Thalikkavu here.

All of them worked in the construction sector. They cooked and slept in the small room. Conversing in broken Malayalam, he expressed no complaints about his work or his living condition.

Interventions

Labour Department officials here said it was very difficult to figure out the exact number of migrant labourers in the district. The department had intervened to ensure proper facilities to workers here. It conducted medical camps recently at Pappinissery and Pazhayangadi. In some sectors, nearly 70 per cent of the workforce comprised migrant labourers and they were largely content with their work and wages, District Labour Officer Baby Castro said. The department officials occasionally inspected the facilities provided by their employers and contractors to ensure that proper sanitation and other basic amenities were provided, he said. The department had the power to invoke the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, and the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act to ensure that the employer/contractor complied with the statutory liabilities, Mr. Castro said.

Though the workers in the construction field were entitled to welfare scheme benefits under the Construction Workers Welfare Scheme, the number of workers who used these was very low, he said.

Development of labour camp-type facilities to be rented to employers/contractors, to accommodate migrant workers, was a proposal being considered by the State government, official sources said.

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