The combination of chikungunya and malaria was a rare occurrence, but it seems this current spell of rains would make that rarity a common feature in the heart of the national capital. In Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, a case has been registered in which both the vector-borne diseases have been found in the same patient, and the simultaneous affliction has attracted both medical attention and caution of more to come. Evidently, the 31-year-old Pawan Kumar Saraswat is going to be a one-off case.
What is happening?
It’s obvious that the happy days of rain in the parched city of New Delhi haven’t arrived without their share of monsoon mayhem, this time apparently, in a deadly cocktail of chikungunya, dengue and malaria altogether. Reports have flooded the media of a major spike in registered cases of chikungunya – 105 from January 1 to June 17, 59 cases of malaria and 50 cases of dengue in the same period, according to a Mail Today (MT) report.
The MT report reminds of the recent history of the vector-borne diseases: “For the past two years, Delhi is witnessing major vector-borne outbreaks. In 2015, the city had reported nearly 16,000 dengue cases with 60 odd deaths and in 2016, about 500 dengue and 12,221 chikungunya cases with 20 deaths. Doctors said molecular typing of the virulent virus strains needs to be done to know the exact properties of the viruses circulating these days and to prevent such outbreak.”
A virologist at AIIMS told MT, “It was type-3 dengue strain that was circulating last year and samples which we have received are of the same strain. So we suspect that this year too, it's the same virus. But there is no reason to panic as type-3 strain is not life-threatening.” Though slightly assuring, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the extreme pain, exhaustion, dehydration, muscle cramps and high fever associated with dengue wouldn’t continue to plague Delhiites for the days and months to come.
However, a Business Standard report has said that 146 cases of chikungunya and 87 of dengue have been reported in Delhi this year. Nine cases of chikungunya have been reported in this month alone.
The BS report says: “Out of the 146 chikungunya cases, 10 were recorded last month, 19 in April while 34 were diagnosed in March. 20 cases were detected in January and 13 in February. Ten dengue cases have been reported this month till June 17, while eight cases were recorded in May, according to the report by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) which tabulates such cases on behalf of all the civic bodies of the city.Six cases of dengue were reported in January, four in February, 11 in March and as many in April.”
The MCD report cited by the media articles has harsh prognosis for the monsoon season, with authorities now hastening towards a quick combat plan, even as cases come to fore at an alarming rate. Intermittent rains had caused water to accumulate at various places in Delhi, with drains overflowing once again, despite warnings to the contrary.
Where are the babus?
All this, despite Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal putting it up in the Aam Aadmi Party’s MCD election manifesto that Delhi would become a vector-borne disease free zone, and that with people’s participation, raised awareness, he’d ensure a clean and healthy Delhi. With AAP’s health minister Satyendra Jain under CBI scanner, it’s the CM himself who has taken on the cudgels of conducting these meetings and working towards a cleaner Delhi.
In fact, in May this year, the CM had chaired a meeting of all the MCDs – south, north and east, all three of which are BJP-run – officials, to brainstorm and chart out methods to eradicate the vector-borne diseases from the national capital. He had asked officials to keep a special tab on mosquito and larval breeding, ensure no water-logging at homes, cleaner roads, less of garbage in and around neighbourhoods. But once again, the authorities have been caught napping.
However, there are also reports that the vectors are developing an increased tolerance to the insecticides and anti-mosquito sprays, which are being used widely by the authorities. News reports have authorities saying on record that despite deploying door-to-door domestic breeding checks, using anti-breeding techniques to discourage mosquitos from proliferating, checking water-logging in low-lying areas, potholed roads, the measures have not been enough to prevent a possible full-scale and perhaps a deadlier outbreak of all three diseases – chikungunya, dengue, malaria.
Yet, the fact that almost 40-50 per cent of posts designated for staff to keep a check on mosquito breeding lying vacant for two years, as this HT report talks about, means that not enough hands are on the deck to prevent this titanic calamity staring us in the face. Given that in 2016, not a single case of chikungunya was reported until July, it’s evident that 2017 is going to be a far worse year in terms of fighting the monsoon menace.
India lags behind in health index
It’s extremely disconcerting that India has been ranked 143 among 188 countries in a global health study conducted in 2016 by the United Nations and published in the top-notch medical journal Lancet. This is far worse that countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, even Syria and Botswana, with poor performance in hygiene, air pollution, water pollution, pollution-related mortality, etc.
According to the report, “For malaria, which was one of the health indicators assessed, India merely scored 10 points and remained in the red. Similarly, for hygiene, the study gave India just eight points while for PM2.5, it scored just 18 points.”
Though India scored better in neglected tropical diseases, the fact that Sri Lanka has been declared “malaria-free” by World Health Organisation in 2016, must be really galling for Indian officials, who are still battling with the Anopheles mosquito-borne disease for decades now.
In addition, there has been a Zika scare, with Gujarat government attempting to cover up a few cases related to Zika virus in Ahmedabad, so that the Vibrant Gujarat summit 2017 went ahead without any hiccups.
Such health-related gambles haven’t put the shine back on India’s sagging health indicator graph, and it seems the whole country is being bogged down by bureaucratic bunkum and incompetence. Delhi, too, is no exception to the rule.