Mehnatkash Mahila Sangathan, Delhi, has come out with an important report on the effects of the ongoing epidemics of fever, dengue and chikungunya on the working class populations in Delhi’s industrial areas and slums. The report highlights the inadequacies of the healthcare system as well as the administration to address the suffering of this marginalised section on whose labour the city is built and running. The report concludes by making demands towards urgent action in these areas and to ensure that health and wellbeing of the working classes is not compromised in the present times of underperforming public health services and increasing privatization and commericalisation of healthcare. Two video testimonies are also provided at the end of the report.
Since the past one month, entire Delhi is in the grip of fever. Diseases like Dengue used to break out every monsoon, but this year, Chikungunya and Malaria have been added to the list. While no section of the city is left untouched, the worst affected are the poor and the working classes. At this time, we will hardly find any person in the slums of Delhi who isn’t affected by fever, joint pain. But this aspect caught the attention of the media only when a large number of workers started missing work because of illness and this disrupted construction work and production in the factories.
According to the government figures in Delhi, 15 people have died due to dengue so far, and 1300 cases have been reported, while 1500 cases of chikungunya have been reported and 6 people have died of malaria, till now. But the ground reality is very different from these statistics. It is clear that the government and the municipal corporation is trying to suppress the seriousness and vastness of the problem. In East Delhi’s Jhilmil Industrial area, in three slums alone, there have been 3 deaths in the last week due to high fever. There isn’t a single house here, where you would not find anyone suffering from high fever, joint pain and body pain. It is common to find homes with all members ill, so much so that there is no one left to take the ill to the doctor. Only in a single slum, atleast 2000 of 2500 people are suffering from fever. Clearly such numbers are being kept of the official statistics.
The condition of the nearby hospitals is so bad that after waiting in the queue for hours, the doctors get rid of the patients by just handing them 3 paracetamols. People are thus being forced to go to private hospitals and clinics where the charges to get a single patient treated is a minimum of Rs.1000; if you add to this, blood tests and pain-killing injections, then some people have even had to pay around Rs.3000.
How will people earning daily wages between Rs 50 to Rs 300-be it factory workers, hawkers-vendors or women domestic workers- be able to afford such expensive treatment? Especially if many members of the same family are unwell. If they do not get treatment, how will they go for work, and if they are unable to go for work, where will the money for family’s treatment come from? Most of the people are trapped in this cycle of helplessness, and as a result, they have to sacrifice their health. Another important aspect is that such diseases require long periods of rest and consumption of juices and fluids for recovery, both of which are far beyond the reach of the working classes. It is impossible to take long leaves as the fear of losing their livelihoods is always looming large. Many families have been forced to return to their villages and quitting their work due to the increasing expenses on treatment and medicines. Children are also not being able to go to school and many of them have had to miss their exams. Many in the slum will also tell how difficult it has become to do any daily work because of acute joint pain. Many people can be seen limping.
Garbage dumps and contaminated water is logged everywhere near the slums. The drains are so dirty that they are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Is the MCD not responsible for the cleanliness of slums and working class areas? Fogging has been done only once for namesake, that too only in some parts of the slum. Apart from that there hasn’t been a single effort from the corporation that has been taken to maintain cleanliness throughout the year. Has the government been spending the large amounts gathered in taxes in the name of ‘Swach Bahrat Abhiyaan’ only on false advertisements!
> Looking at the serious condition in the capital as well as in the whole country, it can be said that it is not going to subside only by calling for “Protect yourself from mosquito bites”, a few weeks every year. These diseases and their outbreak can only be stopped when health-care system and institutions become the priority of the government, when treatment, medicines and tests would be free and universal. The class-character of the understanding of ‘cleanliness’ in our society and cities also needs to be changed.
This isn’t the story of just one slum. The situation in every slum in the city is the same. Most of the population of the country and especially cities is living in poverty despite working hard and labouring day and night. The struggling population constitutes the majority of the country, and the children living here are its future. The most hard-hit is the city’s Dalit population which is involved in the work of picking, segregating and cleaning waste and the city’s trash with their bare hands. The development model has left this entire class to suffer in suffocating, small damp rooms and on the streets and footpaths. Garbage, dirty sewage and factory smoke has become such an integral part of the environment that getting inflicted by diseases is natural. This leads to a drastic drop in the immunity levels of the labouring masses. The most important thing is that untill this majority gets fair and equitable wages, dignity for their labour, and freedom from exploitation, their health will keep suffering and the country will move towards weakness, malnutrition and diseases.
Keeping this situation in mind, we are making the following demands to all levels of the government and administration (central government, state government and municipal corporation):
1. This outbreak of Dengue-Chikungunya- Malaria should be declared as an epidemic and all required necessary official steps should be taken to control this epidemic.
2. The wages of workers who are not being able to work due to this disease should not be cut.
3. All workers, including domestic workers and contractual labourers, should be given the ESI facility as a matter of right. The conditions of ESI hospitals should be improved and the provision of required appointment of doctors, treatment facilities and cleanliness should be ensured.
4. The MCD should fulfil its responsibility of cleanliness in all the areas, especially working class areas and slum communities. Regular fogging should be ensured, all through the year and not only during an outbreak of these diseases.
5. The number of beds in all the existing government hospitals should be increased and the number of labs for blood tests should be significantly increased, immediately.
6. Private hospitals and clinics should be brought under strict regulation, so that the race for profit-making out of people’s health and helplessness can be stopped. For the coming few months, the tests and treatment related to these diseases must be provided for lower affordable rates for all the patients, and free of cost for the poor patients, in private hospitals. Hospitals and clinics extorting higher fees should be severely punished.
7. The private hospitals constructed over concessional land and which are not providing reserved beds for poor patients should be punished. The legally reserved beds for EWS patients and provision of free treatment and medicinal facilities for them in these hospitals should be increased. (For in-patients it should increase from 10% to 25% and for out-patients it should be increased from 25% to 40%)
8. Expenditure on health should be increased 10% of the central budget. The privatisation of health facilities should be immediately stopped and all primary to higher levels of health facilities should be made public.
ASHA worker Neelam, speaks about the outbreak of fever in her basti and the deplorable condition of health system : https://youtu.be/Ip3djqgVa5g
Murari, resident of jhilmil industrial area, Delhi speaks about the outbreak of fever in his basti and the deplorable condition of health and sanitation faced by the working class: https://youtu.be/4VFTbDKXdJg