By S K Ghose
Kolkata, July 3 : There has been a sudden spurt in the number of leprosy cases in West Bengal despite the Left Front government's tall claim about a complete eradication of the disease.
Within the span of a year, the number of new leprosy patients has reached the incredible figure of 11,993, which includes over a thousand children. Deformation of limbs, which characterises the disease, is quite marked among a little over one thousand patients.
The concerned districts include Purulia, West Midnapore, Bankura, North and South Dinajpur, Birbhum, Burdwan and Malda.
Of these, tribal-infested Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore districts are the worst-affected.
Experts point out that the authorities have been complacent in the matter.
First, the leprosy department of the School of Tropical Medicine in Kolkata was wound up and merged with the department of dermatology three years back.
Secondly, the leprosy control units in Bankura were dismantled overnight and the system of identifying lepers through house-to-house visits was also withdrawn.
Separate cells, created for treating leprosy patients at the block and primary health centres in Purulia were abolished without any valid reasons.
Finally, health department employees, engaged in fighting leprosy, have been shifted to undertake vaccination and other related works.
Bengal's Health Minister Surya Kanta Mishra, has held the Centre's "unrealistic planning" responsible for the present state of affairs.
"We had undertaken the leprosy eradication programme under the Centre's directive. The number of patients will some times go up and some times come down. This is the hard reality," said Mishra.
Mishra's claim, however, differs from the contention of Purulia's Chief Medical Officer of Health, A. Das.
He pointed out that the special cells for leprosy treatment had been wound up.
According to Das, the state had, more or less, succeeded in eradicating the disease in March last year, but failed to identify the new patients. Former Director of leprosy Shib Prasad Banerjee said, "We can claim eradication of the disease if the number of patients is limited to one per ten thousand. Now it is more than one. In Purulia the ratio is 3.3 persons per ten thousand people."