The mosquito buzz in Delhi may get louder

Every year, domestic breeding checkers hop from door to door, climb atop water tanks and containers and inspect narrow damp corners for mosquitoes breeding on their premises. Employed by the municipal corporations in the city, they check whether their surroundings are conducive for mosquito breeding, slap fines if violations are observed and spray insecticides to keep off the buzzing intruders, carriers of a host of diseases.

This year, however, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has diverted public health resources and made certain interventions more difficult, such screening and preventive measures is lagging compared to previous years, data from the municipal corporations show. Experts warn that the lack of attention to these measures could lead to an outbreak of vector-borne diseases this season.

The mosquito buzz in Delhi may get louder

The numbers

In 2019, the domestic breeding checkers visited 1.43 crore houses by June 22. In 2018, they inspected 1.41 crore houses by June 23 and in 2017, 1.73 crore houses were covered in the same time. This year, the checkers have visited only 62 lakh houses till June 20, a drop of about 56% compared to last year, reveal data shared by the three municipal corporations.

Similarly, the number of houses sprayed with insecticides has dropped by about 30%, from nearly 3.12 lakh last year to 2.26 lakh this year. The number of houses found conducive for mosquito breeding was a lot fewer at 8,312 this year compared to 25,767 last year, and the number of legal notices issued stands at 7,715 this year compared to 25,767 notices last year.

Are we at risk?

Himant Singh, an entomologist at the National Institute of Malaria Research, said that given the lack of surveillance, an outbreak may happen. “Mosquitoes are highly adapted to indoor climate and people are unaware of its bite. They are only worried about COVID-19. They are undermining the possibility of high breeding taking place now,” he said.

Mr. Singh said since it is difficult to visit houses in the current situation, perhaps even unethical, such checks would be hampered. “Especially given that for three months they could do nothing. Three months is a lot of time. If you don’t destroy them at an early stage, they grow exponentially,” he said.

R.S. Sharma, ex-additional director of the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, concurred. He said that prior to COVID-19, in January and February, the number of malaria cases in the country were already on the rise. The cases in Delhi, however, have been the same as this time last year, at 31.

“During the pandemic they will definitely increase because no one doing surveillance, no one is doing treatment, they are not checking mosquito breeding,” he said.

Apart from this, Mr. Sharma said that such vector-borne diseases are also cyclic, which means that a rise in cases could be witnessed in the coming years too.

Mr. Sharma, a former nodal officer for Delhi’s vector disease management, said that domestic breeding checkers had been put in place in the city for household surveys after an outbreak of dengue in 1996 when up to 10,000 people were infected and nearly 400 people died.

Watch | Delhi's mosquito menace over the years

Explaining the role of the checkers, Mr. Singh said that they visit houses and check all containers, go to the rooftops to check the tanks and identify water collection points and instruct the residents to either drain them out or change the water.

“Now there is nobody to instruct and nobody to identify vulnerabilities,” he said, adding: “Most of the people employed for mosquito checking are now deployed for COVID-19 control. Earlier, they would spray mosquitocide. Now they are engaged in spraying disinfectants.” Disinfectants don’t kill mosquitoes, said experts.

An official with the National Vector Borne Disease Control said the chance of an outbreak could not be ruled out.

“But we have issued advisories and guidelines to States and municipalities, asking them to sensitise communities and households to carry out the work themselves,” the official said.

Currently, reports indicate that the workers are going to construction sites and places where people don’t reside but are not visiting houses. In this situation, it is up to the households to protect themselves, their families and their neighbours, the official said.

Slowed down

North Delhi Municipal Corporation spokesperson Ira Singhal said that as a consequence of COVID-19 pandemic, house owners are not allowing domestic breeding checkers inside their premises. “In many cases people are quarantined. Also, they are not letting them [checkers] into their house in case there is no issue,” she said, explaining the drop in numbers. She also said that because of the pandemic and the lockdown, the checking work started later than usual, but the process is under way and would take a little longer.

Ms. Singhal informed that the work of checking people’s houses is over and ensuring water doesn’t accumulate in their premises is ultimately the responsibility of the house owners. The checkers’ primary task is to spread awareness through various means, which is still taking place, she said. Additionally, the corporation is engaged in spraying disinfectants in drains. The fogging machines were stopped as it could aggravate respiratory conditions, she said.

An East Delhi Municipal Corporation official agreed that people were not allowing workers in on account of social distancing norms. “Whenever there is an opportunity to interact with householders, they are being educated and motivated to take care of their water collection points,” he said.

The official also said that the workers were burdened because of the dual disease situation, given that disinfection was not part of routine activity of domestic breeding checkers, but insisted that this hasn’t hampered breeding checks.

Despite this, he admitted that it was a cause of concern because the workers were not entering houses and it was left to the responsibility of the householder to ensure that mosquito breeding was not taking place.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 5:08:34 PM |

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