Experts say it is better to prevent vectors from breeding than fight them

Sunday is World Malaria Day. What are we doing talking about an infectious disease in a column on lifestyles that influence health? Believe it or not, it was altering lifestyles and choices that actually helped Chennai city beat down the anopheles mosquito that causes the shivers.

What a number of people forget often is that they are themselves the reason for the proliferation of mosquitoes. Breeding stations for mosquitoes are aplenty within the domestic area: overhead tanks, unused tyres, mugs, pots, buckets lying in a corner, sewers, septic tanks. These mosquitoes cause not only malaria, but also filariasis, dengue, Chikungunya and of course a great deal of nuisance even when they are not spreading disease.

S.Elango, director of Public Health, says, ?As a public health expert, we want a safe, healthy environment that would be free from vectors. By that, we mean an area that does not provide breeding grounds for any type of insect that transmits diseases.? It is easy to underestimate the value of housekeeping, but it is only science that comes into play when public health experts judge a house for its cleanliness.

?Will this house help mosquitoes breed and thrive is what we are asking.?

Housekeeping is very important, he stresses. Dispose all unused goods such as plastics and tyres and ensure that while they are at home, no water collects in them. Clearing out the air conditioners drip containers, water pots and flower vases inside the house is very important, according to him.

Chennai is, in fact, one of the endemic areas in Tamil Nadu for malaria (others include Rameswaram, Madurai and Coimbatore). However, in the capital city, the only strategy that worked to bring down the numbers of malarial cases every year was one that appealed to home owners and tenants directly.

Then the ?Dry Day' concept indicated to residents especially in North Chennai that day of the month when they had to clean their water tanks. This way, the tanks were cleaned of the larva breeding in and a significant drop in the number of cases occurred.

The Housing Board tenements were also required to have sealed, pot-shaped water tanks, instead of uncovered tanks. This helped changed the situation drastically, Dr. Elango added.

But civil infrastructure should be now fashioned in such a way as to discourage the breeding of any sort of insect, says P.Kuganantham, public health expert. He adds that town planners have to also be public health engineers so that the planning for the future ensures that healthy living is also factored in. Town planners like the CMDA and the local civic body's engineers should ensure that houses have overhead tanks, septic tanks and sewer lines that are hermetically sealed before they grant permits. House owners should also be informed of this so that they incorporate it into the design.

?When you build a house, check that water does not stagnate in pools anywhere because of elevation and that drains and pipelines have flows that are not disrupted,? he says. Another problem in metros and towns is that unauthorised constructions that do not have regular sewer connections connect their sewage to the stormwater drains. It is estimated that there are over two lakh such illegal connections in Chennai alone, Dr. Kuganantham says. The sewage will cause blocks in SWDs and disrupt water flow, leading to breeding of mosquitoes.

Questions are also being raised by environment campaigners of petroleum-based products that are used in insecticides and other mosquito-battling substances being used by civic bodies. These pollute the environment and worse, mosquitoes have developed resistance to this sort of sprays, fogging and larvicides. Efforts are now on to use bio products.

The better thing, obviously, is prevention. It is better to prevent vectors from breeding, rather than fight them after allowing them to proliferate. Dr. Elango adds, ?The best part is that you are the best agent of that change - all you have to do is take care of your own home and backyard.?