Despite Health Ministry’s denial, dengue-chikungunya epidemic grips India
The country is in the throes of a major dengue-chikungunya and other vector-borne diseases epidemic even as the Union and state health ministries and municipalities remain in denial.
Across India, 12,255 cases of chikungunya and 28,000 cases of dengue were reported until August 2016. So far, 60 deaths have been reported from dengue fever this year.The national capital alone has recorded over 1,600 dengue cases this season.
Cases of malaria have also risen this year with Delhi reporting two deaths from malaria this month.
Private hospitals in the national capital contest these claims insisting the numbers of dengue and chikungunya are much larger than what is being reported.
Doctors in Apollo Hospital, Fortis, Batra Hospital and Max Healthcare report they are receiving more than 200 cases of dengue per day and claim they have no space to deal with such large numbers of patients.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare continue to downplay the seriousness of the situation insisting that the disease can hardly be described as having reached `epidemic’ proportions. Even though 2015 statistics show the reporting of over one lakh dengue cases, scientists from the US-based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health insist the number of dengue and chikungunya cases are much higher than what are being officially recorded.
This denial marks the official attitude towards malaria also which has shown an upward swing this year. Official figures show that around two million get malaria and around 700 people die from it.
The World Health Organisation has released figures to show that there are around 15 million cases of malaria every year in India from which there are 20,000 deaths every year. The Million Death Study highlighted that malaria deaths in India were much higher and pegged the figure at 150,000 to 225,000 cases.
The problem is that a large number of these deaths take place in rural and semi-rural India where patients do not have access to laboratory facilities. The government figures are restricted to laboratory reports whereas a large number of people go to private doctors who do not insist on getting blood samples of the patient.
Doctors working with the recently launched National Framework for Malaria Eradication believe there is an urgent need to change the traditional strategies of destroying adult mosquitoes and their larvae and moving to a parasite control strategy to contain the infection. The Johns Hopkin team of doctors took blood samples of more than one thousand people across 50 Chennai colonies of both affluent and poor and found almost all had dengue while half had suffered chikungunya.
The problem is that both these diseases were earlier confined to the south and eastern parts of India. But today both these diseases are spreading their fatal footprints across north India.
The newest mosquito-borne disease to enter the country is Zika, which can prove a serious threat to babies of pregnant women who develop this disease. Instead of being in denial, it is time that Ministry of Health ensured a proper and integrated response.