Dengue runs riot … and yet it is no epidemic?

Syed Badrul Ahsan
Published : 18:33, Jul 28, 2019 | Updated : 18:39, Jul 28, 2019

Syed Badrul AhsanDhaka South City Corporation Mayor Sayeed Khokon was emphatic, not many days ago, that there was no dengue and that any talk about it was a rumour. Now that it is no more a rumour, he is unwilling to acknowledge that dengue has now broken out in epidemic form. There are all those thousands of people who have been laid low by the malady (the Directorate General of Health Services speaks of 10,528 cases of dengue in the last seven months); there are those who have gone to their graves — and that includes three doctors and two university students; and there are the literal difficulties hospitals and clinics in the nation’s capital are confronted with in accommodating dengue-affected people. And yet for the mayor it is no epidemic.
If that is the quality of our elected officials, we need to think twice before placing such people in positions where they are expected to serve people but hardly do. The DSCC has fined nine home owners over their failure to look to the presence of Aedes mosquitoes on their premises. That is fine, but should it not have been the responsibility of the DSCC authorities to keep the streets, the drains, the homes of people within its jurisdiction clean in the past few years, indeed throughout the year? Perhaps there will be no answer to this question. But we cannot at this point resist the temptation to recall the many exhortations from our public figures on what we need to do to ensure our security from all kinds of social and political threats. If we must ensure our own security, why do we have all those elected representatives in high offices? We remain aware of the need to preserve our health, but who will exterminate those mosquitoes and other pests which threaten us? Where do the funds allocated to keep our towns and cities free of germs and diseases go?
Never mind these questions. Don’t even try to answer them. But do look at the dengue question again, for much of a farce or comedy, whichever way you wish to look at it, has been going on around it. The Finance Minister has expressed the pious wish that Allah may not have anyone afflicted with dengue. Of course the Creator is always there for all of us to seek His munificence, but He only helps those who help themselves. It is now fairly obvious that our civic bodies have not helped us, which reality Minister Mostofa Kamal may already have realized by now. His prayer to the Almighty has not worked, since we now have thousands of our citizens beaten black and blue by dengue. As if that were not enough, Health Minister Zahid Maleque has, unwittingly or perhaps deliberately, brought the R word into his assessment of the dengue situation. His remark about the fast breeding of Aedes mosquitoes being comparable to childbirth among the Rohingya refugees was clearly racist in tone. He may not have comprehended the grave import of his comment, but it has left us all red in the face. Remember Winston Churchill’s insensitive view of the Bengal famine in 1943? He was not bothered that Bengalis were dying by the tens of thousands everyday because, in his opinion, Indians were always breeding like rabbits.
Mosquito nets have been arranged for every dengue patient at a special ward recently opened at the Shaheed Suhrawardy Hospital in Dhaka. Photo taken on Jul 23, 2019. BANGLA TRIBUNEAnd here is another aspect to the entire dengue story, this time from the ubiquitous Ruhul Kabir Rizvi of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. He does not lose a minute before coming forth with his opinion on any situation. And now he has stumbled on the discovery, as he sees it, that through undertaking a campaign of a widening of the Aedes network, the government has embarked on a plan of liquidating citizens. It all begs the question: when will men like Rizvi begin to understand that politics is not at all about rash statements or knee-jerk reactions but about a sober response to incidents and developments as they happen? Rizvi’s wild charges are reminiscent of the atrocious claims of thousands of Hefazat elements done to death by the security forces in 2013 when they sought to keep Dhaka hostage and force the ouster of the government.
There can be no averting the danger consequent upon the outbreak of dengue, despite LGRD Minister Tajul Islam’s claim a few days ago that the malaise was under control. He had no explanation of why 559 people afflicted by dengue had been brought to hospitals a mere day before he made that statement. That is again a curious situation, with many of our ministers arrogating to themselves the authority to speak on subjects not within their remit and then making a mess of things. Governance ought not to be chaotic, but when almost every figure in government decides to speak on almost every subject, in the manner of all those all-knowing commentators on late night television talk shows, governance suffers.
Calamities of the nature of dengue, floods, cyclones and drought call for a centrally coordinated response. There ought to be no room here for politicking, for pointless defence of measures not taken, for denial, for flippant or dark humour, for speaking out of turn.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a political commentator and biographer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmad.

***The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions and views of Bangla Tribune.