In a deeply disturbing episode last Saturday, 125 students from a girls’ school had to be hospitalised after falling ill from inhaling fumes of an anti-dengue spray. According to details, following instructions to take preventive measures against dengue fever, Principal of the Government Higher Secondary School in a small town, Domeli, in the Gujar Khan District, ordered purchase of a pesticide from the local market, and got it sprayed in the classrooms after school hours on Friday.
As is usual practice in such cases, all doors and windows were closed so that the mosquito killer could have full effect. When the girls came in the next morning some 40 of them fainted while others started having breathing difficulty and other problems.
It took a while for the administration to make arrangements for transporting them to nearby hospitals. The more serious cases had to be shifted to Rawalpindi.
This was the second incident of its kind within a span of less than two weeks. On September 10, fifty students from a girls’ school in Attock District fainted because of fumigation during the recess period. That incident was widely reported by the media, yet no lessons were learnt although the provincial government had reacted by suspending the DCO, EDOs for health and education as well as the TMO.
This time again similar action followed. The principal and two security guards were detained; the Chief Minister also ordered immediate suspension of five senior district officers. He also set up a two-member inquiry committee comprising the Rawalpindi Commissioner and a health expert to look into the matter. To be sure, the CM’s response, particularly formation of an inquiry committee, is commendable.
However, it was rather unfair to take the principal to task in a hurry. She seems to have acted in good faith in line with government instructions. The other officers may not be guilty either of wrongdoing. But obviously someone somewhere is the guilty party.
It would have been appropriate for the government to focus on having the insecticide properly examined, under strict vigilance, for its components and wait for the inquiry report to take action against district officers. It still needs to be established whether or not the insecticide dispensed was of the right kind.
Exposure to insecticides is known to produce adverse health effects like dizziness, nausea, breathing difficulty, seizures and fainting, like the students experienced. Careless and repeated use can cause even nervous ailments and immune system disorders, and hence have to be used carefully.
It is imperative to ensure that from now on only officially prescribed insecticides are used. And equally important, instructions must be issued to all school managements on when and how to spray them.