One of the six children admitted at a municipal hospital in Delhi on Sunday night died due to diphtheria, taking the toll to 19.
While North Delhi mayor Adesh Gupta has asked for a probe to check the alleged “callousness of hospital authorities” in procuring the anti-diphtheria serum (ADS), the staff pointed out that nearly all the cases follow same pattern.
“Of the six children who came in the last night, one more has died. Most of these cases are from Muslim populated areas where there is lack of awareness regarding the vaccines,” claimed an official, adding that the cases were concentrated in districts of Ghaziabad and Meerut in western Uttar Pradesh.
While writing for The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Manoj Murhekar from the National Institute of Epidemiology had flagged the issue. He said, “The coverage of primary and booster diphtheria vaccinations administered as a part of universal immunisation programme needs to be improved. A special incidence needs to be given to increase the vaccine coverage among Muslim children in states like Andhra Pradesh.”
The Maharishi Valmiki Infectious Diseases Hospital has seen a spike in cases this year. From September 6 to 23, of 147 admissions in the hospital—122 were from Uttar Pradesh, 14 from Delhi and 11 from Haryana. In the previous year, there had been 550 children admitted due to the disease, with about 100 deaths.
The hospital had initially said that the Central Research Institute (CRI) Kasauli, which specialised in the manufacture of anti-diphtheria serum (ADS), had not provided the serums in time. But the CRI confirmed that it had prepared 150 vials of the diphtheria antitoxin that were “lying with them for a fortnight” but no one from the hospital had come to collect them, “in spite of intimation”.
An official at the North MCD countered, “Our orders were for 5,000 vials. In fact, even in cases when the children were given privately procured ADS, they couldn’t be treated since they were admitted at a time when it was already too late.”
But, the official added, “If there has been dereliction of duty, there will be strict consequences. The report is likely to be in by Wednesday.” Medical Superintendent Sunil Kumar Gupta was not available for comment.
The underlying problem, officials maintained, was the increased incidence of the disease concentrated in a geographical area.
“These children are not getting the required preventive vaccination. Moreover, initially they are getting treated for a common cold and only getting referred to MVID when the symptoms are severe,” said a doctor at the hospital.
Diphtheria is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria that affects the throat and upper airways, which causes sore throat like symptoms and difficulty in breathing initially. If left untreated, the infection causes production of a toxin that can damage the body’s peripheral nerves and other important organs.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the disease can be fatal in 5-10% cases. Globally, the cases of diphtheria have declined from nearly 1 lakh in 1980 to closer to 9,000 cases in 2017. But the decrease has stalled over the past decade, with India a key drive, said the WHO.