Unhygienic conditions at brick-kilns potential threat for disease outbreak
SRINAGAR: Officials of the J&K Health department have predicted that the Acute Diarrheal Disease (ADD) epidemic that claimed nearly a dozen lives in Budgam in 2010 may flare up again this summer if precautions and preventive measures are not taken.
In 2010, water-borne diseases, including cholera, came out as a challenge for the department in Budgam as the epidemic left 11 persons dead and more than 2,000 hospitalised. Most of the patients were below the age of 25.
According to public health experts, ADD cases have shown an increasing trend in 2016, and cases may increase this year.
The authorities said hundreds of brick-kiln workers from outside J&K could be a potential source of the deadly outbreak. Working with no sanitation provision, they are compelled to defecate in the open near streams, thus polluting the water bodies.
“Vulnerable villages include Reyar, Waterhaal, Kralnar, Harpanzu and Shoolipora as they were hit by the disease in 2010 as well,” the authorities said.
Directorate of Health Services, Kashmir, epidemiologists said that a look-out campaign for probable diseases during the arrival of summer in vulnerable areas of Budgam will help in controlling potential epidemics.
“Though we are well-trained and well-equipped to contain the disease outbreak like we did in 2010, but strict and coordinated measures are to be taken,” said Dr Manzoor Kadri, state Surveillance Officer of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP).
As per the IDSP memo, diseases which may shoot up due to polluted water include cholera, typhoid, Hepatitis A and E, leptospirosis, acute respiratory infection, rabies and ADDs.
There are more than 250 brick kilns in Budgam district, with thousands of labourers working in them. They live in temporary sheds near the kilns without any proper latrine facility.
“They usually defecate in the open near streams, which pollutes the water. This is the major reason for the outbreak of water-borne diseases like cholera in the area,” Dr Kadri said.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Budgam, Dr GM Dar also admitted that open defecation was always a “potential threat” for the spread of infectious diseases.
“Hundreds of labourers are working in the brick kilns of the district, and they use temporary latrines which carry the potential threat of water-borne diseases. We were planning to dismantle the temporary latrines constructed near streams. However, this will not help till there is some practical and permanent solution to the problem,” he said.
Dr Dar said they were working with the district administration and were trying to make sure that there should be some permanent solution to the problem.
According to reports, cholera, gastroenteritis and other infectious diseases that had spread due to water-contamination in 2010 had broken out in low-lying villages where the brick kilns are located.
“If a brick-kiln owner invests a huge sum in his business, it is his responsibility to make sure proper sanitation facilities are available to the labourers,” said Nazir Ahmad, a social activist.
He said more than 100 cases of cholera and over 2,200 cases of gastroenteritis and other diseases have been reported from the district, which was the centre of an epidemic for two weeks in August.
“It was after a massive campaign that the spread of the diseases could be controlled. Otherwise, 56 villages of Budgam district were hit out of a total 270,” he said.
Another reason for the spread of ADDs is the inadequate supply of safe drinking water to the villages.
“Only half of the filtration plants in the district are presently functional. Over 60 percent of the population does not receive safe drinking water,” said an official, preferring anonymity.
He said that in some villages, drains directly end up in streams and nallahs wherefrom contaminated water is lifted by the Public Health Engineering department and stored in reservoirs for supply downstream before being treated with bleaching powder.
According to official reports, people are consuming contaminated water and are under severe threat of water-borne diseases in Budgam as tap water contamination has gone beyond permissible limits.
Data collected from the district have brought to the fore the disturbing findings of tap water analyses showing the clear presence of microbes, or coliform bacteria.
Water samples have been taken from the district to measure bacteria in tap water using the multiple-tube method known as Most Probable Number (MPN).
Findings indicate that the Budgam tap water was contaminated with the presence of alarming rates of coliform bacteria in it.
Coliform is a group of gram-negative bacteria (most common being Escherichia Coli) found in the intestinal tract of humans and other animals. If ingested through contaminated food or water, they cause bacterial or viral gastroenteritis, cholera, Hepatitis A, typhoid fever and associated problems, medicos said.
Test results of water samples from 10 districts of Valley have revealed “disturbing figures” with Budgam, Bandipora, Kulgam, Islamabad (Anantnag), Shopian and Pulwama showing almost 90 samples as “unsatisfactory” for drinking with MPNs exceeding 10/100 ml.
“The bacterial count of tap water of majority of the towns exceeded the recommended permissible level of World Health Organisation (WHO),” said a doctor privy to the investigation.
The data concludes that tap water in these districts is polluted with infected human or animal faeces with only the tap water of Srinagar being fit for human consumption.