The Lede
As Naidu Fiddled Over Special Status, Guntur Hit By Gastro Epidemic
Andhra Pradesh

As Naidu Fiddled Over Special Status, Guntur Hit By Gastro Epidemic

GS Radhakrishna

Over 25 deaths due to the stomach related illness and diarrhea a stone’s throw from the capital city of Andhra Pradesh

 Guntur has been hit by an almost-epidemic of gastroenteritis, a stomach affliction, in the past two weeks and people are dying of it. CPM leader P Madhu said that the deaths are at 25 as of Monday.

Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Minister Nakka Ananda Babu and Municipal Administration Minister P Narayana who toured the affected areas on Sunday advised continuance of the medical camps for a few more days. “Contamination of 40-year-old drinking water pipes had occurred leading to gastro epidemic,” the ministers said adding that all pipes were being changed now. The process would take a minimum of six months to complete. Drinking water lines in 6 to 10 municipal wards got contaminated with sewerage and drainage lines above them leading to isolated cases of gastroenteritis.

As the people of Guntur town were dying, a stone’s throw away, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu was invoking Telugu pride and breaking his alliance with the NDA over the issue of special status and funds to the southern state.

The first symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea were observed since March 07 and first aid was given to patients but deaths began within hours, say doctors. Within a week, 10 people had died, sending shockwaves across the town. But the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) continued its politicking.

At a review meeting at Amaravati on the health hazard afflicting Guntur, Naidu blamed the district officials for negligence and inaction. “One man’s failure has led to ten deaths,” Naidu said and hinted at the negligence of the BJP State Health Minister K Shrinivas, who resigned on March 09, following the TDP’s severing of ties with the BJP and NDA.

Naidu also admonished the district Collector and the Municipal Commissioner for not taking timely action. When he was informed that road cutting had damaged the water pipes leading to contamination,Naidu said that the district officials lacked coordination which had created the major health hazard.

Dozens of people were admitted to the Guntur Government Hospital (GGH) and other private hospitals. According to estimates by district medical and health officials, around 540 persons have undergone treatment in Guntur city since March 07, of which 410 have been sent back home on Saturday. Around 82 patients are still in hospital and 1640 more have been treated in outpatient wards for severe vomiting and diarrhoea, according to the Guntur Government Hospital.

GGH doctors are allocating two patients to a single bed in view of the sudden rise in gastroenteritis cases. “Two special wards have been set up for these patients in GGH and all other hospitals have been advised to segregate gastroenteritis patients in separate wards,” said district medical officer Dr J Yasmin. A shortage of IV (intravenous) fluids in the hospital also led to protests in the district town between March 12 and 14.

The Guntur Greater Municipal Corporation has set up medical camps in all affected 10 wards so that emergency services could be provided. “We have set up nearly 71 medical camps and also stationed ambulances in the wards since one week,” said district Collector Kona Shashidhar.

Alarmed by the intensity of the gastroenteritis cases, the state government roped in experts from Visakhapatnam and Tirupati for advising local doctors. It also launched a systematic survey to identify the source of the epidemic by deploying 30 teams of nursing students in the affected wards.

“The district administration also inspected the mineral water Reverse Osmosis plants all over the district town and seized nearly 27 of them for alleged supply of contaminated water. RO water suppliers ran away shutting their units, but the police and municipal officials sealed them,” said district municipal commissioner M Anuradha.

Meanwhile, the district Pollution Control Board along with the Municipal Corporation has commenced repair works to replace the leaking pipes which had caused contamination of the drinking water systems.

Executive Engineer of the Pollution Control Board VR Maheshwar Rao said nearly 22 kilometres of water lines were contaminated and hence were being replaced at a cost of Rs10 crore on a war footing.

However, officials said water was getting contaminated at the source near Prakasam Barrage and along the way, during its journey from Vijayawada to Guntur after passing through the treatment plant at Takkellapadu. “We also have given a master plan to GGMC (Greater Guntur Municipal Corporation) to segregate the present drinking water lines from sewerage and drain canals,” said Rao.

“Even after a week since the spread of gastro there is no letup and the number of cases is increasing,” says GGH superintendent Dr DS Raju.

Opposition parties CPM and CPI staged dharnas along with Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan on Thursday after visiting the hospitals and gastro patients. “It is a failure of the state government as even after a week adequate medicines and doctors were not posted to tackle the problem,” said CPM district leader Y Venkateswara Rao.

Even as most of the opposition YSRCongress and Congress leaders were away in Delhi to stage dharnas near Parliament over the special status issue, none of their second rung leaders were visible at the hospitals. BJP MLAs, MLCs and ex-ministers though, visited the hospitals and condoled the parents and relatives of the deceased victims.

TDP leaders were caught off-guard.On directions from Naidu, ministers Narayana and Anandababu visited homes of the victims and presented cheques of Rs five lakh each to families. “It is a failure of the local administration which did not anticipate such a large spread of gastro in two days,” said AP Municipal Minister P Narayana.

“The gastro incident is the second of its kind in divided AP (first being the viral fever of Udhanam in Srikakulam district) which exposed the chinks in Chandrababu Naidu’s administration,” said BJP MLA Vishnu Kumar Raju, a firm critic of the Chief Minister.