Malaria, dengue on the prowl

Malaria, dengue on the prowl

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Sunday, October 22, 2023, 07:12 PM IST
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Representative Pic | Pexels

The data released by the Maharashtra public health department this week confirmed what was anecdotally evident in the past few weeks: that the incidence of malaria, dengue and chikungunya are on the rise in the state and, especially, in Mumbai and its larger metropolitan region. Maharashtra has registered nearly 11,400 cases of malaria and 11,600 of dengue so far this year with the worst months of winter yet to pass. Of these, 45 per cent or nearly half the cases of malaria and one in every three cases of dengue are from Mumbai alone. The city, home to an estimated 18-20 million people, is sitting on the keg of a public health crisis that the Eknath Shinde-led government would do well to take note of. Unfortunately, going by the chief minister’s priorities, and those of his two deputies, Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar, public health appears low down on the list, if at all. And this is not counting other public health issues such as tuberculosis and lingering Covid-19.

Community-based dipstick surveys showed that nearly 75 per cent of the residents in Maharashtra and 65 per cent in Mumbai stated that fogging — the most basic preventive measure for malaria and dengue — had not been carried out in their areas in nearly six weeks. Between four and six out of every 10 persons stated that they had to spend at least a few hundreds every month on mosquito control measures. It would be facetious to dismiss this data and its implications. In fact, the public health department both in the state as well as the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) should wake up and, on a war footing, take basic preventive and combative measures. Are the departments unaware of the spread of malaria and dengue, or could they simply not care less?

Such public health issues affect the poorest people the most and spread quickly in lower-income neighbourhoods where sanitation facilities are below par and garbage clearance mostly halfhearted, leading to the spread of the mosquito larvae. This is hardly the first time that the authorities are dealing with the mosquito menace. During a similar near-epidemic some years ago, civic officials went after singers who mocked them and looked for stagnant water in pots in high-rises to curb the larvae. This was turned into memes. Surely, the BMC which tackled the pandemic, can do better with the mosquito menace.

Early drought on the horizon?

The southwest monsoon has ‘officially’ withdrawn from the country for this year and the northeast monsoon with its winter showers will commence later this month. It has been erratic in parts, such as in some regions of Maharashtra. Weather analysts and meteorologists are already recording and analysing the heat to aver that this October may well be one of the hottest in India in recent years with an increase of between one and two degrees Celsius above normal across large parts of the country. This is being attributed to the El Nino effect. The rise in day temperature and relative dryness around does not bode well for any sector or region in the country, mainly because most states and cities either do not have well-thought out heat action plans meant to save lives or such plans are non-functional where they exist.

The erratic and uneven monsoon in Maharashtra, except in the coastal Konkan region, has meant that vast areas of the state are staring at a drought as early as in October, even as the monsoon barely withdraws. It is many months to summer when water stocks are at zero and groundwater tables run dry too. Reports say that the government is considering declaring a ‘drought’ in as many as 42 of the state’s talukas — or roughly 12 per cent — later this month. The ground-checking, also called ground-truthing in some parts, has commenced already. This is hardly good news for people across the state and for the government. The last major drought in the state was five years ago when nearly 42 per cent of the state was adversely impacted.

It is not that the weather will not play truant and climate change will not make its impact felt. These are our new realities. What is shocking is that the government does not yet have plans that go beyond the usual drought declaration and drought tackling measures. If climate change is not factored in, any plan will prove to be self-limiting.

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