A reporter turns up at his editor’s office, disappointed: “Sir, there’s nothing exciting about the dengue story…....there’re very few patients in the city hospitals with hardly anyone having died of this disease so far.” “Go get something sensational, something big that can send shockwaves through the community and panic the Punjab government,” the editor retorted. This much from a friend, who worked for a vernacular newspaper and lost his job just because he refused to comply. This small episode vindicates the Punjab government’s claim that dengue has not reared its ugly head because the administration keeps fighting the deadly virus on a war footing.

Last year, about this time around, the sudden outbreak of the killer disease shook the government, already shaken by the devastating floods of 2010. It was difficult to dream of a day when the epidemic would stop killing the people. In the provincial metropolis, emergency was declared at hospitals, which were thronged by dengue patients - men, women and children included.

The first and foremost thing to do was to reduce the fatality rate. Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif took it upon himself to meet the challenge head on. They say faith comes to play amidst troubles, but he does not believe in angels appearing at time of crisis. You cannot expect him to relax when the poor are suffering.

Those who know Mian Shahbaz must be aware of his peculiarities: one is, he has a penchant for good governance; the other is, he knows how to go about it. Gone are the days when the Punjab Chief Minister would remain ensconced in his palatial office at 8 Club Road, leaving his prodigal son to build family fortunes through potential deals! The occupant of this grand mansion would hardly find time to walk through knee-deep water in the flood-affected areas to meet the people exhausted by misery and grief. There was no trend in the past of the provincial chief executives making long journeys to sympathise with rape victims.

Not just that, health and education had been the lowest priority of the so-called flag bearers of the ‘Parha Likha Punjab’. Dilapidated buildings of government schools across the province bore testimony to the fact that those in power at the time were more interested in making political mileage through free distribution of textbooks with the Chief Minister’s pictures printed on the title, rather than providing infrastructure and better faculties to educational institutions in the public sector. Similarly, little attention was paid to improve healthcare for the poor.

One wonders what would have happened if his pledges to elect his patron saint as President in uniform over and over again, was still in power when the devastating floods and deadly virus had hit the province and its capital in quick succession. The political leadership of the past, which lacked both vision and energy, would not have been able to shake the administration out of its complacency the way the incumbent Chief Minister did.

Last year, about this time around, the scarcest thing in the metropolis was a hospital bed. Patients being brought to government hospitals with high fever and respiratory distress were turned away because they were already running beyond capacity. The situation sent alarm bells ringing to Mian Shahbaz, who was genuinely concerned. He devised a multi-pronged strategy to meet the challenge head on. It included equipping the hospitals with adequate resources and inviting foreign experts to guide the doctors treating dengue patients.

The CM presiding over back-to-back meetings was personally monitoring progress in containing the deadly virus. All administrative secretaries and heads of government hospitals were bound to attend the marathon morning sessions every day, which lasted for hours on end, to review the effort being made by the government to reduce the fatality rate and the control spread of the epidemic. Fumigation was repeatedly carried out in the city, and tyre shops and junkyards regularly inspected to prevent them from turning into breeding ground for dengue.

Now that the threat of deadly virus is receding, the CM’s effort is acknowledged even by his arch rivals. But probably, they cannot say it publicly: well done, Shahbaz Sharif!

 The writer is a banker and freelance columnist.