The cocktail of vector-borne diseases that sweep across many parts of India is predictable as is how to minimise their occurrence. The crumbling public health system is struggling to cope with the growing cases of chikungunya and dengue among other illnesses making it all the more imperative that prevention measures be taken in advance. The answer lies in better sanitation for a start to prevent the spread of these diseases. India loses around 2.7% of GDP, some experts put the figure higher, due to poor sanitation. World Bank estimates say that one dollar used in preventive measures saves nine in treatment.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) was to push the drive for sanitation across India and though it has succeeded in some regions, there are still staggering problems to cope with. One is the inadequate waste management system. Across India, especially in smaller towns, untreated sewage is pumped into open spaces or rivers, open defecation is still a widespread phenomenon and garbage and waste disposal methods are neither scientific nor effective. This has created an optimum environment for vectors to breed and spread diseases. At least 100,000 children under the age of 11 months die of diarrhoeal diseases each year. The economic productivity of people affected by diseases like malaria, dengue, Japanese encephalitis and chikungunya decreases.
The solutions are not far too seek. Water treatment plants need chlorination, sewage disposal should be effective and speedy, awareness about mosquito screens and use of repellents, and of the need to remove stagnant pools of water, need to be created. The outbreak of diseases, many of which are growing increasingly drug resistant, is putting a huge burden on many people for whom hospitalisation often means being pushed into poverty. Beefing up the public health system is one aspect of this. The fight to contain communicable diseases must involve stakeholders like resident welfare associations and panchayats. The SBA should be moved to the next level. In enlightened self-interest of minimising economic losses at least, the authorities should begin planning for next year now.