Unlike the deadly Aedes aegypti, the prime vector carrying the dengue virus, Anopheles stephensi, the carrier of malaria, appears to be losing its sting in Kolkata.
Records with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) authorities show that between January and July this year, only 2.1% of the 4,987 confirmed malaria cases belonged to the malignant variety. During the corresponding period in 2011, as much as 3.9% of the 18,597 patients suffered from malignant malaria. According to Atin Ghosh, member, Mayor-in-Council (health), KMC, the credit for this goes to the KMC.
The civic administration has been doing everything it can from screening construction sites to surveying slums, where freshwater and rainwater gets collected in open drains and narrow lanes and becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Since Ghosh has been the in-charge of the KMC health department in 2010, KMC has been writing letters to all the five state-run medical colleges and hospitals to crosscheck reports on malaria. It registers complaints with the Union health ministry when government hospitals flout the National Drug Policy on Malaria (2010) that recommends ACT (artemisinin combination therapy) in case of plasmodium falciparum.
Ghosh also started the trend of starting the anti-mosquito drives in the city in the month of January — considered a lean period. Previously, these drives were conducted during and post rainy season. “Working in lean period allows us to be better prepared for the upcoming rainy season. The officials are engaged in tasks like identification of mosquito breeding spots and checking the sanitation of all areas,” the MMiC said.
For every malaria case that comes to KMC’s notice, the patient’s address is noted and an indoor fogging — with the eco-friendly chemical pyrethrum — at 50 households surrounding the patient’s residence is carried out.
The civic body’s entomological team conducts weekly visits to construction sites, including the flyover projects, the East-West Metro and the BBD Bag-Joka Metro projects. “This time, the main focus is on eradicating mosquitoes that cause malaria and dengue. Hundreds of construction sites are being surveyed for this,” said KMC’s chief entomologist Debashis Biswas.
After conducting routine check-ups, civic authorities have started issuing notices under Section 496 of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Act, 1980, to those who fail in preventing breeding of mosquitoes in their household or construction site.
A rapid action force has been formed by the civic body since Ghosh came. Anti-mosquito drives have been initiated in different schools, colleges, universities, state-run hospitals, police stations and residential complexes.
Though rainfall has been scanty this year, stagnant rainwater continues to be a major problem for the civic authorities. KMC’s malaria control experts say that the breeding sites for Anopheles stephensi have increased in number because of rapid urbanisation.
Although the Trinamool Congressled board at KMC is making efforts to combat the menace, Ghosh says that support of the people is essential in tackling the malaria menace.
But negating Ghosh’s claims, a section of Trinamool Congress councillors have expressed dissatisfaction with the KMC’s efforts so far.
A Trinamool Congress councillor from central Kolkata has reported a number of malaria cases in her ward. “People in my ward are suffering. The number of people suffering from malignant malaria is on the rise and most are not aware of the dos and don’ts,” the councillor said.
A visit to Slum No. 6 at Taltala Lane shows that few use mosquito nets. “KMC officials do visit this area and sometimes even spray chemicals. But it is true that we do not use mosquito nets and depend on high-speed fans to drive away mosquitoes,” said Munni Begum, resident, Taltala Lane.
Refusing to accept that KMC employees have failed to combat malaria effectively across the city’s 141 civic wards, Ghosh said, “The onus lies on all the 141 councillors. Field workers have been asked to get signatures from the councillor every time they visit a ward. If any councillor still complains about the services, then s/he is responsible for the lacuna in fighting the menace.