The year: 2011. India has grappled with over 1000 cases of Japanese encephalitis. 500 of these have occurred in Uttar Pradesh (UP) alone. Meanwhile, Jharkhand and many states in eastern India like Arunachal Pradesh and Assam are dealing with an outbreak of malaria. The general consensus is that malaria and dengue occur only in rural areas like small villages and districts which lack infrastructure to maintain hygiene. But recent figures have shown that our cities aren’t safe either, no matter how clean or upscale they might be. In Delhi this year, the number of chikungunya cases has risen to 71. The capital also struggled with 14 cases of Japanese encephalitis and 596 cases of dengue. Mumbai, the financial capital of India, recorded 80,000 cases of malaria. Calcutta is one step ahead – an unknown virus similar to chikungunya and dengue has taken root in the city and experts have no clue as to what it is. Government officials and other experts have maintained that the main reason behind outbreak of vector-borne diseases (VBD) is unsanitary surroundings and lack of hygienic conditions. But if the current numbers are anything to go by, that’s not true. So the question on everyone’s mind is: Are any of us safe anymore?
Why hasn’t a solution been found yet?
Vectors spread across countries as people travel. Urbanisation has made it extremely difficult to keep the disease contained in a geographical area. There are various other theories too – varying agricultural practices, deforestation and even climate change are being held responsible for spreading VBD.
What are the experts doing?
As of now, only research. There are no real answers, drugs or medicines in the market. Solutions such as DDT to tackle malaria have been rendered ineffective as parasites develop resistance towards them.
Is the government listening?
In 2011, the government allocated Rs 532 crore to its National Rural Health Management (NRHM) scheme to fight and monitor major VBD. This was only two per cent of the total money allocated to the health department.
How much is being spent judiciously?
The UP state government, which received Rs 544 crore under the National Vector-Borne Diseases Control programme, has spent only Rs 428 crores. That is Rs 116 crore unspent! Even Bihar, which is a hotbed for VBD, has Rs 45 crore unspent funds. One of India’s top drug makers has reportedly made a new drug to be released in 2012 that will combat malaria. It hasn’t yet cleared clinical trials internationally. On a more positive note, an international consortium launched Asia’s biggest ever study on kala-azar – a US$9 million funded project that will help India eliminate the disease. Also, the Indian Council of Medical Research has set up 14 specialised laboratories that would extensively provide diagnostic services for viral diseases.
But is it enough?
With so much of the taxpayers’ money being ‘spent’ on combating VBD, one would think it would soon be the end of them, but no such luck.
Where is India going wrong? Are these efforts adequate?
Looking at the unrelenting numbers, no. However, as citizens, it is our responsibility too to take part in eradicating these problems.
How can we cope with VBD if we don’t even know how to? Will we ever be free of them?
As of now, the answer seems to be ‘No’. Despite ongoing research, the trend of VBD is very erratic. Not only do the figures fluctuate, they seem to transcend socio-economic borders as well.
The intent of the Gobar Times team was to raise these questions which demand urgent attention of the government as well as our scientific community. Although the GT reporters made persistent attempts to get more comprehensive answers from experts and approached the National Institute of Virology in Pune, they were stonewalled with ‘we don’t have time’. But GT went ahead anyway. Now it is upto the readers to carry the investigation forward.