Delhi govt’s ‘clerical error’ brings smallpox, polio back to Capital | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Delhi govt’s ‘clerical error’ brings smallpox, polio back to Capital

Smallpox, the highly contagious disease, was eradicated from the world in 1980 and India was declared polio-free in 2014.

india Updated: Aug 03, 2017 07:14 IST
Anonna Dutt
A medical volunteer administers a dose of polio immunisation to a child in Hyderabad.
A medical volunteer administers a dose of polio immunisation to a child in Hyderabad.(AP file)

It’s scary but thankfully not true.

Two people died of smallpox and 11 of polio in the Capital last year, says a Delhi government report.

Not possible, say experts and they have the science to back it.

Smallpox, the highly contagious disease, was eradicated from the world in 1980 and India was declared polio-free in 2014.

“It is not possible. There has to be some mistake. The last polio case in the country was in 2011 and smallpox hasn’t been around for years,” a union health ministry official told Hindustan Times when asked about the annual report on registration of births and deaths in Delhi.

The report, prepared by the Delhi government’s statistics department by compiling data from civic bodies, was released on Wednesday.

“It could be a clerical error,” a health official of the Delhi government said on condition of anonymity.

Other than the fact that it brings back to life a disease that has long been dead, the report raises questions over the credibility of the data collected by government and civic agencies.

Government and health experts rely heavily on such data to draw up policy and action plans and Delhi is one of the better managed places when it comes to keeping records.

“Definitely no one can contract smallpox, as the virus is not there globally. The only smallpox virus left today are in laboratories, which are highly contained making it impossible for the virus to escape,” said Dr AC Dhariwal, director of the National Centre for Disease Control.

He said many times chicken pox is mistaken for smallpox.

There was still a possibility of people getting polio as the virus was in circulation in neighbouring countries.

“However, these deaths might have been in persons who had contracted the disease years ago as no new cases of wild polio have not been reported in years,” Dhariwal said.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where wild polio virus is in circulation.

The World Health Organisation had in 2014 declared India polio-free, three years after the last polio case was recorded on January 13, 2011 in West Bengal. Delhi’s last case was reported in June 2009.

According to the WHO, the last known natural case of smallpox was in Somalia in 1977. Since then, the only known case was the result of a laboratory accident in 1978 in Birmingham, England that killed a person and caused a limited outbreak.

The statistics office pointed finger at hospitals.

“Hospitals report to the local bodies and we collect data from them. If there is any discrepancy, it has to be at the hospital’s end,” said Shan-e-Alam, deputy director, directorate of economics and statistics. All death certificates were certified by medical practitioners, he said

Experts, too, raised doubts about death certificates.

“Mostly the certificates are prepared by junior doctors and the seniors might not have the time to cross-check the causes attributed,” a doctor with Delhi’s health department said.

“The accuracy also depends on whether the certificate has been issued by an allopathic hospital or clinic or an ayurvedic health unit.”

There are other discrepancies, too. The report says 206 people died of dengue in 2016, though only 10 such deaths were recorded by civic bodies, which are tasked with compiling dengue, chikungunya and malaria data.