Eleven children belonging to an endangered tribal community in Jharkhand have died of malaria, with seven deaths recorded in 24 hours, while authorities struggled to control the spread of the disease.
Health officials were initially struggling to identify the disease, which killed the children from the Birjia tribe, one of four primitive tribal groups in the region - others being Birhor, Baiga and Souriya Pahariya - facing extinction, because of their dwindling numbers. Jharkhand has 5,191 Birjias while Bihar has only 17 of them according to the 2008 census.
Blood samples from the infected children confirmed malaria in 15 cases on Friday. "The situation is under control and new cases have not been reported so far," said Latehar civil surgeon Dr Kanhaiya Prasad. "The patients who underwent treatment are out of danger."
All cases reported so far are from Purnidih and Adhe Kurgi villages in Latehar district, which are located around 180 km east of state capital Ranchi and have no health centres or medical facilities. People have to walk for miles to get to a motorable road to reach the nearest urban centre.
"The disease spread around a week ago but health officials responded today," said Shankar Parahia, a member of the Souriya Pahariya tribe. Slamming tribal ministers of Jharkhand for not working to improve healthcare for tribal groups, he said, "If this is their attitude, we will soon be history."
The health department will spray DDT in affected areas to check the menace of the vector mosquito that spreads malaria. According to the directorate of national vector-borne disease control programme, the country's nodal agency for control of vector-borne diseases, in 2013, India recorded 881,730 cases of malaria and 440 deaths.
Global projections are much higher. Malaria infected 60.7 million and killed more than 116,000 in India in 2013, reported The Lancet on Tuesday as part of an analysis of trend data from 188 countries.
(With inputs from Anbwesh Roy Choudhury in Ranchi)