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Dec 22, 2008

Polio Drop Rumours

A wave of mischievous rumours about babies dying after being administered pulse polio drops caused panic in Tamil Nadu including Chennai leading to violence in some parts of the city and districts on Sunday. In Chennai miscreants who had mingled with local residents went on a rampage at the Tambaram Taluk Government Hospital at Chrompet in the evening. It all started with a private television, owing allegiance to an opposition party, running a scroll claiming that a child in Erode district had died after taking the polio drops.

As news spread, nearly 300 residents including panic-stricken parents in and around Tambaram descended outside the hospital and demanded an explanation from the hospital authorities about the efficacy of the polio drops administered to their children. Since no senior official was around, the agitated crowd went on a rampage breaking window panes and tables and chairs at the casualty ward of the hospital. They also damaged a computer and blood pressure checking machine at the ward. The police arrived on the spot after learning about the violence and dispersed the crowd.


To ensure that the miscreants did not reassemble, a large posse of policemen was posted in front of the hospital. Elsewhere, hundreds of parents, many carrying babies, returned to the ESI Hospital in K K Nagar and at the Government Stanley Medical College Hospital in North Chennai demanding that doctors examine their child and certify that they were fine. Police and hospital authorities had a tough time convincing the people that news about the babies dying after being administered polio drops were only a rumour.


At all these hospitals, the parents stayed till late night unconvinced by the explanations offered by doctors. Following widespread protests in many districts, the government health department clarified that a four-month-old baby, Shankar of Periyakodiveri village near Sathyamangalam in Erode had died of hydrocephalus, a congenital disorder of excess fluid in the brains and not because of any lapse on the part of the administration while giving polio drops.


All other babies administered polio drops at the same centre were healthy, officials said. According to reports pouring in from across the state, miscreants pelted several government hospitals with stones. In Coimbatore, miscreants, holding banners of a Dalit party, went on the rampage, damaging passing vehicles, while a group hurled stones at the government hospital in Tirupur.


Panic telephone calls and short messages heightened parental anxieties. By the time the rumours were scotched through public address systems and the electronic media, the general hospitals, functioning with skeleton staff on Sundays, came under a virtual siege. At Tirupur, in just two hours about 10,000 people had thronged the government hospital, but there were just two medical doctors on duty.


As the enraged parents protested and stones landed on the window panes of the hospital, about 20 doctors rushed in to attend to the children. At the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital, an outpatient centre was set up right at the entrance, with the dean and about 20 medical officers, personally attending over 5000 children within three hours. Later in the evening, the state government condemned the television channel backed by AIADMK for spreading rumours.

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