Strengthen health systems to tackle rising dengue threat
Take the case of Kerala. The state has been reporting a high number of dengue cases year after year.
The alarming increase in dengue cases should come as a wake-up call for the country’s public health system. More than 94,000 cases and 91 deaths have been reported in the country till September 17. Kerala tops the chart with 9,770 cases and 37 fatalities. The situation prompted Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya to assess the preparedness and ask states to intensify the prevention, containment and management measures according to the prescribed guidelines. What should worry the authorities is that despite vector-borne diseases being a recurring seasonal threat, our public health systems are never fully
prepared to tackle them.
Take the case of Kerala. The state has been reporting a high number of dengue cases year after year. While the numbers are unusually high this year, the state reported a substantial 4,432 cases and 29 deaths in 2022, and 3,251 cases and 27 deaths the year before. Yet, the measures to deal with the disease are found to be seriously lacking in intent and efficacy. The biggest concern for Kerala is the rise in mortality. We are told that the key factors aiding mosquito breeding are the uneven rain attributed to climate change, unplanned urbanisation, and the general lack of cleanliness in our cities, towns and villages. Source reduction activities can be boosted. The government and local bodies should take the lead in this. But the people should understand that the mosquitoes that bite them are bred in their vicinities and they must take the responsibility of keeping their premises mosquito-free. According to epidemiologists, though dengue is tough to eradicate, it can certainly be controlled if measures are taken in time every year.
As a state that constantly battles communicable diseases, Kerala certainly needs a trained workforce to deal with such threats. Its plan to set up a Public Health Cadre, a dedicated workforce for the prevention and surveillance of communicable diseases, has been a non-starter. There is also a need for epidemiologists and public health experts to coordinate with the disaster management authority for geospatial mapping of mosquito-breeding spots so that prevention work can be targeted. According to a study by the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, with the warmer weather and intermittent rainfall promoting mosquito growth, there is a chance that a more virulent dengue virus would emerge. Our public health system must be strengthened and disease-control measures intensified to face such a threat.