Cholera-like symptom spreads in Varthur labour sheds, epidemic claims three lives

Panic swept the labour sheds at Belagere in Varthur where a cholera-like epidemic has claimed the lives of three and left 19 ill.

Agitated labourers locked up BBMP medical staff camping at the sheds to screen the sick, while human rights activists and lawyers accused the builders who employed the labourers of negligence.

The makeshift sheds house 2,500 construction labourers, who work at the upcoming luxury residential complex Sobha Dream Acres at Varthur.

Jithendra (25), Bandhu Naik (57) and Srikanth Sahu (20) - the three migrant workers from West Bengal, Odisha and Assam - died in the sheds, while Kanhaiya (22) and Akku (21) are in a critical condition in the ICU.  

Sahu was declared brought dead on December 29, while Naik died of breathing complications on December 26. Doctors believe Jithendra could have died of a heart attack. The bodies of all three victims are sent for postmortem to St John's Hospital, and reports are awaited.

Following Sahu's death on December 29, the councilor for ward 149 in Varthur, Pushpa Manjunath, alerted the BBMP officials of the cholera-like epidemic as several labourers also fell ill.

At 3.30 pm on Friday, Dr Nagesh M and two of his assistants from the BBMP set up a camp at the sheds and screened 154 labourers. Two of them were found to be critical and were referred to St John's Hospital.

At 11.30 pm that night, some labourers surrounded the medical staff and threatened them since they found the medical equipment and drugs inadequate. The medical staff lodged a complaint with the Varthur police, who are probing the matter.

On Saturday, two of the 174 labourers and their families screened were found to be critical and were referred to the hospital for medical care.

Seventeen of them stable but ill were also sent to St John's for treatment.  

Dr Nagesh told DH that the labourers had diarrhea and cholera-like symptoms.

Open defecation  

Health workers sanitised the sheds with bleaching powder and installed a temporary RO water purifying plant for drinking water. The medical staff also distributed notices with dos and don'ts to ensure hygiene at the sheds, where open defecation has been a major problem.

"We've asked them to boil the water before drinking," Dr Nagesh told DH. "We've also instructed them to use the temporary toilets installed there."

The sheds were also abuzz with human rights activists and lawyers for the past two days, who said the labourers are being unnecessarily blamed for the situation.

"The builders are criminally culpable," said advocate and activist T Narasimha Murthy. "They connive with the police and the BBMP to blame the labourers for the lack of hygiene, only victimising them further."

R Kaleemullah, activist from the NGO Movement for Justice, said the epidemic has driven nearly 2,000 labourers back home. "The sheds are now empty," he added.

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