India struggles to get a handle on mosquito-borne diseases

America Abroad
A health worker fumigates a residential area to prevent the spread of dengue fever in Chandigarh, India, September 20, 2015.

A health worker fumigates a residential area to prevent the spread of dengue fever in Chandigarh, India, September 20, 2015. Dengue, a mosquito-borne disease, is common in India and the number of cases generally peaks in October, after the end of the monsoon rains.

Ajay Verma/Reuters 

When it comes to mosquito-borne diseases, the world’s attention has been fixated on Zika for the past year. But other diseases like malaria or dengue still threaten more people.

This is particularly true in India, a country with a population of 1.2 billion, where the government is struggling to get a handle on the problem — though there are signs of hope.

To understand the stakes, look no further than the capital, New Delhi, where this summer an outbreak of chikungunya affected thousands with fever and joint pain. This was soon followed by the seasonal dengue epidemic, a more severe virus that can be fatal.

Climate change, rapid urbanization, a growing population and lack of sanitary waste and water disposal are all factors that have allowed dengue and chikununya to thrive in New Delhi. But Dr. Ashish Bhatia, a physiotherapist based in the city, is one of many critics who have blamed the Delhi government for its slow reaction to the outbreak. Late fumigation drives and in-fighting between different government bodies have made things worse this year.

Over the past few months, Bhatia has seen eight to 10 patients a day with chikungunya.

“Until about 10 years ago, nobody knew about dengue and chikungunya. Now the problem is that in the big metros there are more and more people within the same infrastructure and this has created more waste, which is not disposed of properly. This is why the mosquitoes have a very good ground for breeding. If you can’t stop mosquitos, you can’t prevent the disease from spreading,”  he says.  

Dr. Mohan Kalra practices internal medicine at Max Hospital in Delhi, one of the capital’s largest private hospitals. He says the country’s healthcare system still lacks the capacity to handle these seasonal outbreaks, and that authorities should have planned ahead better.

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