On September 4, Sukesh Munda of Joy Birpara Tea Estate died of an enteric infection, bringing the number of tea worker deaths from the disease to four in a one-week period. By September 5, 250 workers from the estate had been admitted to hospital – over 100 of them on a single day.
The water-borne disease, of which acute diarrhoea is the main symptom, first showed up at the end of August at the Dheklapara estate, one of the many plantations which have been closed in India’s enduring tea crisis. At least three child deaths have been recorded there.
The local hospital in Biapara which has only 100 beds is unable to cope with the number of patients, who have to share beds or sleep on blankets on the floor.
A local medical officer who visited the area confirmed to the Calcutta Telegraph that the number of cases of enteric diseases was on the rise: “The situation is grim and if garden management do not ensure the supply of safe drinking water, there is nothing we can do.” He added that the medical service was doing everything it could to supply medicines, saline and oral rehydration solutions to the gardens but unless the source of the infection was controlled there was little that could be done.
IUF Asia/Pacific has been able to send a team to the area. Joydeb Barman, superintendent of the Birpara State Hospital, told them that the hospital was struggling to deal with the situation. He said that workers preferred to come to the state hospital rather than stay in tea garden hospitals which needed to be upgraded. He also said that drinking water in the tea gardens was “not up to the mark”.
The IUF video report containg interviews with medical staff and patients can be seen here on youtube.