Even though government health authorities might be reluctant to call the dengue outbreak an epidemic, the fear of this mosquito-borne viral infection is increasing by the day. According to the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, in 2012, 100 people have died due to dengue and 17,104 people (till Sept-ember) have been affected by the infection that causes a flu-like illness that sometimes develops into a potential complication called severe dengue. However, as we all know, the actual figures of deaths and hospitalisation could be much higher. In fact, in Kolkata, where 9 is the official death count, the unofficial one is around 60. Such under-reporting of cases was challenged recently by the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Association in Bangalore, which accused the government of hiding the real number of dengue cases. There is no vaccine against dengue or specific treatment, so early detection and access to medical care can lower fatality rates.
According to the World Health Organisation, the global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades. So it is a no-brainer that authorities here should have been prepared to tackle this. But as usual, they have been caught napping. Leave alone the under-equipped, under-staffed and under-funded municipal authorities of smaller towns, even the civic body that looks after the VIP areas, the New Delhi Municipal Council, failed to take preventive measures. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation, is now planning to appoint entomologists to advise it on how to fight dengue. Others are scurrying around trying to check mosquito breeding (which should have been done just after the rains), hiring breeding checkers and cracking down on properties where breeding is detected. Truly a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Climate change will exacerbate health problems like these as well as chronic diseases in India, particularly when millions already experience poor sanitation, pollution, malnutrition, and a shortage of drinking water. To tackle the problem, India needs to improve surveillance, monitoring, and integration of meteorological, environmental, geospatial, and health data.