Dengue danger also looms

BySashikala VP

May 8, 2020

As if damage done by the virus is not bad enough, Delhi has to gear up for its seasonal vector-borne diseases, as the weather is not hot enough to make mosquitoes disappear and water may be stagnating in outdooor areas while citizens are in lockdown

The few times one does step out to buy groceries and other essentials during the Covid-19 lockdown that India has been in since 25 March, the steady stream of people buying electric mosquito killing bats, or the nauseatingly fragrant Odomos creams, is unmissable.

Summer is here, and with it the tiny and dangerous pests – mosquitos. The monsoon season is when the numbers rise exponentially in the Capital, but even now, in the month of May the vector numbers have increased. This could be due to the fact that Delhi has been witnessing rains in April and in the early part of May.

Dr Ashok Rawat, North Municipal Health Officer (MHO) says that while normally theyundertake fogging at all areas in the months of August to November, due to Delhi seeing consistent rains every week even in the month of May, temperatures are not that high. We are now planning that if there’s no change in the weather, we will gear up for regular fogging”.

With higher temperatures, mosquito breeding goes on a downfall, like from the month of June, Dr Rawat says, “Water bodies dry up, so there is an easing of vector density at that point.”

For now, though, the North MCD has conducted fogging in 104 wards in the past 10 days, but these are all at random, while he agrees there has been an increase in the vector density.  “As of now it is being done randomly as per requirement. We have not collected regular data. When there are complaints from RWAs or individuals, only then we do fogging. Zonal offices tell us about the affected areas”.

But with Covid-19 lockdown and the fact that the municipal bodies are busy with disinfecting areas, the check on vector-borne diseases may be on the back burner. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on held a review meeting with Delhi government officials on 5 May on the city’s municipal corporations’ preparedness “to deal with vector-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya, and malaria. It is important to take measures to control these diseases,” said Harsh Vardhan after the meeting.

He even pointed out that the meeting was necessary as everyone was busy battling Covid-19. “It was important to have a meeting so that vector-borne diseases are not ignored. Last year, around 5,000 cases of dengue were reported. It is important to be better prepared to deal with such diseases”.

An official with the National Vector Borne Disease Programme (NVBDP) told Patriot that since the lockdown, all states including Delhi had been given an advisory that activities like checking breeding of vectors should be carried out. He pointed out that they have received an action taken report, which shows that they are already on the job. “As far as we are concerned, municipal corporations are fully involved, they know what to do, they have the material and the knowhow to tackle it.”

What they are more focused on is dengue, the disease which the AAP-led government in 2019 had claimed to have almost won a victory over. CM Arvind Kejriwal claimed 80% drop in cases of dengue between 2015 and 2018 — one had seen these claims in advertisements inside the Delhi Metro, which gave the figures from 2015 as 15,867 cases which then came down to 2,798 in 2018.

While indeed the numbers had gone down, the official with NVBDP says that dengue has a cyclic trend of returning every 3-4 years. “This year and next are particularly important for us, not just for Delhi but pan India. It’s important for us to keep a vigil on it.”

He believes that the pandemic will not make vector-borne diseases go unnoticed but in fact help arrest cases early on. “The dengue test kits are abundant. We have made sure that they are not in short supply and that they get supplied along with the Covid-19 kits. Because of Covid-19, if anyone gets a fever and he doesn’t have other symptoms, then he will get screened for dengue as well. So, there’s definitely a possibility that we will be able to catch it in an early stage and focus on areas affected and localise the areas.”

For now, he says the number of cases of vector-borne diseases may be low due to the lockdown and several migrants moving away from the congested urban areas and slums. “But at the same time, those areas which are under containment zone, where populations are kept inside, then it becomes a problem because there could be a possibility of water storage in those areas. And there’s a possibility that workers will not be able to go into the containment areas and check for breeding. So, there can be some risk involved. But we have already said that in containment areas normal activities should be carried out along with Covid-19 surveillance teams. Luckily till now we are not hearing of any cases from these areas”.

But there is an upsurge of malaria cases, as was seen in 2019. To compare figures till September of last year, the total number of cases detected till the 14th were high at 247 cases. In 2015 the cases were at 66, which then spiked up to 410 cases in the year 2017.

Looking at just the month of May, in South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) itself puts the number of cases of malaria in 2019 at nine, which became substantially higher at 35 in the month of June and kept rising.

This year as well, the same seems to be the case. Till 2 May, 16 malaria cases have been reported and this is the highest compared to the last five years’ numbers. And there could be many more which have not gotten reported.

Tarun Kochar, a resident of Mayur Vihar thinks the number of mosquitoes this time is like nothing he has seen before, in the two years he and his roommates have been calling it home.

“There are just too many of them. I am allergic to mosquito repellents and it is not possible to stay inside the mosquito net the entire day. To add to that, now being stuck at home during the lockdown, balconies and terraces are a breather, a window to the outside life. But thanks to these mosquitos, it’s impossible to stand in the terrace or my balcony for more than five minutes. There is no open drain near my building, and my house is on the fourth floor, I don’t understand where and how they are breeding in such huge numbers.”

With fogging happening only on a complaint basis as of now, many areas may be suffering silently.