The country's southern districts have been making screaming headlines for breaking out of diarrhoea over the past few weeks. Diarrhoea's prevalence in that region, particularly in the lean season, has ever remained a regular phenomenon. In the past when open defecation was prevalent and tube-well water was not widely used, this disease often broke out in an epidemic form. This year, the disease has staged a comeback, it seems, with a vengeance. Up to 23rd this month, 10 patients died of the disease and as many as 36, 468 people suffered diarrhoea and more than 35,000 recovered from it. In the past week alone, 10,115 people were taken down by this disease in the six districts of the Barishal Division. For the past few days around 1,500 people have been taken ill by the disease every day. This certainly is an indication of an epidemic, if it is not already one.
So grave the situation is that a team was sent by the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research to the area to identify the cause of the breakout of the disease on this massive scale. The incidence of the disease is more than double the rate of past year. Most concerning is the fact that presence of diarrhoea germs or e-coli was found in waters of natural sources such as rivers, canals and ponds. People drink tube-well water but they use waters from germ-infected sources for household chores such as cooking and washing. This shows where the fault line lies. Also access to deep tube-wells is limited among the population in those districts ---in fact all across the rural areas of the country. People use waters from natural sources because water from shallow tube-wells proves unfit for cooking. Had there been deep tube-well within their reach, they could avoid use of waters from natural sources for different purposes. One particular observation of a health expert is worth noting. He claims that people eat panta (soaked rice cooked the previous day), which is soaked in waters from natural sources.
Evidently, the problems have been more or less identified. The presence of diarrhoeal germs in river or canal waters means, open defecation has not stopped altogether. In fact, fishermen who spend days and nights on boats are likely to be the ones responsible for this unhealthy practice. Then human excreta may also be drained into natural sources of water in various other ways. Such mix-ups need to be identified and plugged immediately.
Sure enough, high summer and absence of rains have combined together to make the situation worse. The river waters have already been affected by intrusion of saline water from the sea. Now that at least a number of the causes of the spread of the disease have been identified, the first thing is to launch a public awareness campaign. People must be made aware of their bad habits responsible for spreading diarrhoea like this. They must be given the message not to use waters from natural sources for household chores and cooking. This must be followed by a crash programme for sinking deep tube-wells in the affected area. Alongside this, medical teams must carry on their emergency care for the patients until the situation becomes normal.