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In the Battle Against Mosquitoes, Why Does Delhi Always Lose?

After living with dengue & malaria for more than 50 years, why is there still no plan to wipe the disease for good? 

Published
Health News
4 min read
 Delhi’s annual tryst with mosquito-0borne diseases has an uninvited guest — chikungunya. Before its deadlier cousin Zika joins in, the government has a long road of challenges.  (Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b><i>The Quint</i></b>)

Health authorities in Delhi are at their wit’s end to tame the shark-sized outcomes of the deadly bite of one small aedes aegypti mosquito.

Chikungunya has taken even the doctors by surprise — it was largely a disease of the southern states but has bit Delhi hard after a decade. AIIMS alone has tested around 900 samples of chikungunya in the last two months. (July, August).

This sudden spike along with the heavy load of dengue (and two malaria deaths) has set panic bells ringing — the season has just started, the epidemic is yet to peak, it usually happens around October and the visitation from the aedes aegypti mosquito stops only by mid-November.

But if the government and civic bodies’ response is a usual cycle of indifference and denial, the disease will spread to the border states which don’t have medical infrastructure like Delhi, causing many more causalities.

Right now, we’re in panic mode.

This happens as our equally hot and humid neighbour Sri Lanka has achieved a mega milestone — it has eradicated malaria for good. At its zenith, the disease affected two million people in the island country.

Here’s what the repeated attack of the mosquito-borne epidemic reveals about us:

The Preventive Measures Taken By Delhi Authorities Are Abysmal



In 2015, the suicide of a couple in South Delhi after their seven-year-old son died of dengue, shook our collective conscience, exposed our shabby healthcare infrastructure. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b><i>The Quint</i></b>)
In 2015, the suicide of a couple in South Delhi after their seven-year-old son died of dengue, shook our collective conscience, exposed our shabby healthcare infrastructure. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/The Quint)

Dear Health Minister, if the human life has any value, please answer:

  • Delhi’s tryst with dengue in 2015 was the most horrendous in recent years. What preventive steps were taken this time around to ensure lesser damage?
  • How many checks were carried out BEFORE the start of monsoons for in-house mosquito breeding?
    And the number of fines?
  • How many sanitary officers were working towards this task?
    What was the budget allocated to fight these preventable seasonal diseases and how much was spent? We ask this because when the Centre allocated Rs 1.75 crore of additional funds to fight dengue and malaria, the fine print in the document reads that Delhi can use the 7 crore left over from 2015.
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We Just Don’t Learn From the Sri Lanka Model

Each year we lose a little more to the mosquitoes and then blame the annual furore on sparse rains, robust rains, less humidity, more humidity<i> blah blah blah. </i>(Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b><i>The Quint</i></b>)
Each year we lose a little more to the mosquitoes and then blame the annual furore on sparse rains, robust rains, less humidity, more humidity blah blah blah. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/The Quint)

As Delhi battles an aggressive and virulent foe, its equally hot and humid neighbour, Sri Lanka has wiped out malaria for good, which kills 4 lakh people every year in the world, mostly children and pregnant women.

Sri Lanka did not just spend the budget on procuring mosquito nets and malaria drugs — it had a plan and political commitment to end malaria.

  • 80 percent of the island nation’s 22 million population lives in rural areas which are ideal hot spots for malaria-carrying mosquitoes to breed.
  • Instead of wasting millions on preventive measures in these areas, its priority was quicker diagnosis, especially in children and awareness in the rural population.
  • That meant fewer deaths and lesser chances of mosquitoes sucking up the parasite in the blood and spreading the disease.
  • It actively used a live web-based surveillance to track and treat all suspected cases and deployed mobile clinics in high transmission areas.
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Contrary To What You Think, Awareness Among Delhiites Is Zilch

Dengue has been ravaging Delhi year after year and you’ll assume that by now people are fully aware about prevention methods.

Yet a study published in 2012 in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences found that nearly a third of people interviewed in Delhi OPDs were not aware that the dengue spreads in clean, stagnant water. Eight percent thought that houseflies spread dengue and more than 3 out of 4 participants said the dengue mosquito bites only in the night. Half of them used repellents only in the night. Less than 2 percent knew about dengue symptoms.
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Mosquito Breeding Can Happen Even In a Teaspoon Of Stagnant Water!

The limited fliers you see on dengue prevention will have pictures of water in the cooler and large open areas of stagnant water. However, that’s not the case with all species of mosquitoes. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/<b><i>The Quint</i></b>)
The limited fliers you see on dengue prevention will have pictures of water in the cooler and large open areas of stagnant water. However, that’s not the case with all species of mosquitoes. (Photo: Nikita Mishra/The Quint)

People need to be educated that the real danger is even a teaspoon of stagnant water in flower pot trays, tyres and water bottles. And this is something which the government can’t deal with — as citizens it is our responsibility to contain mosquito breeding or be fined.

Talking about fines, the Hong Kong government slaps a 25,000 HKD fine in houses where mosquito breeding is found. That’s a whopping 2.15 lakh rupees and you can’t get away with “Tu janta nahi mera baap kaun hai”. No wonder even after being surrounded with dengue endemic regions, Hong Kong largely remains disease-free.

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However, here in the National Capital, even after a triple attack of chikungunya, dengue and now malaria, there is still no concentrated effort or political will to wipe the vector once and for all — the 24*7 departments to plan ahead of the disease, methods of surveillance to track cases and the involvement of private hospitals is completely missing.

What we have is an entangled mess of misplaced priorities, the constant tug of war between the civic, state and central authorities. Caught in midst are human lives and prayers that the vector loses its teeth before mid-November.

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