Garment factory workers in Bangladesh fall ill in what experts say could be sign of mass hysteria

More than 1,000 factory workers have fallen ill across the country in recent weeks
  • @AndrewBuncombe

More than 450 garment workers in Bangladesh are recovering after they became ill at their workplace and said they believed they had consumed contaminated water.

It was the second such incident at the plant in a matter of days and has highlighted concern that workers may be succumbing to mass hysteria.

According to the AFP, the workers, many of them women, were taken to hospital after they began vomiting and complained of stomach pains on Sunday. The factory in the industrial town of Ashulia, located to the west of Dhaka, was shut down and samples of the water were sent for analysis.

The reports of illness at the Rose Ltd factory followed a similar incident on Friday evening when 200 workers were taken to hospital after they ate meals provided by the workplace.

“About 450 workers were taken to different hospitals,” local police officer Badrul Alam, said of Sunday’s incident.

In recent weeks more than 1,000 workers have fallen ill at several garment factories in Bangladesh, a phenomenon that medical experts have said could be a type of mass hysteria triggered by psychological distress. Early last month, around 600 workers fell ill at a factory close to Dhaka but scientists said there was nothing wrong with the supposedly contaminated drinking water they tested.

Instead, the incident was said to be the result of a psychogenic illness or mass hysteria. A wave of such incidents struck the country eight years ago, causing dozens of schools and factories to shut.

Experts said the illness can be triggered by large-scale tragedies such as the Rana Plaza disaster in which five factories collapsed on April 24, trapping more than 3,000 workers, leaving 1,129 people dead and many more struggling to make a living.

Mahmudur Rahman, head of the country’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, which tested the water at the Starlight Sweaters factory in the Gazipur area in early June, said last month that while it contained normal contaminants there was nothing unusual.

“We suspect it to be a mass psychogenic illness or mass hysteria that affects people from a same group. This happens to mentally and physically vulnerable people,” he said.