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Till we meet again?

The Health Ministry?s refusal to acknowledge the epidemic proportions of the Dengue outbreak was matched by the tardy approach in trying to contain it.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2006 01:00 IST

With the number of dengue cases across the country refusing to go down, two things are obvious. One, in the wake of the first few dengue deaths, the government lacked the will to translate words into action. Two, the Health Ministry’s refusal to acknowledge the epidemic proportions of the outbreak was matched by the tardy approach in trying to contain it.

Though the war against the Aedes mosquito, the carrier of the virus, can be  protracted and difficult, its weapons are simple and inexpensive. Larvicidal treatment in stagnant water conditions was effective in Vietnam’s war with the dengue virus — its occurrence there is reduced to negligible levels. But to engage in such treatment once the virus has already spread, as is being done in India, is a stop-gap arrangement. Health experts have also recorded that fumigation at this hour is a case of playing to the gallery. Why should health authorities get caught up in such a bind? Dengue has been one of the highest killers after malaria. It is well-established that a particularly virile outbreak occurs every six to seven years. The last dengue epidemic in India was in 1996 followed by a severe outbreak in 2002. Surely, authorities should have heeded records of vector movements to undertake pre-emptive action? Ineptitude seems to show up  at each level — disease surveillance, community watch, collation and analysis of  outbreak data and healthcare provisions.

By November-end, the virus should be on the wane and will probably revive next year. Will exercises to eradicate mosquito-breeding continue in winter? Or  will all be forgotten till the next attack?  The primary prevention of dengue lies in eliminating or reducing the mosquito vector that carries the virus. That, above all, must be a year-round activity till it is in-built into the community and the public healthcare system.