Until August, Hyderabad city has recorded 372 cases of dengue. The numbers are already higher than the 220 and 145 cases detected in 2017 and 2018 respectively. And officials say that this may not even be the real picture, the actual numbers could be much higher.
The Entomology Department under the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) is tasked with efforts for prevention of malaria and dengue.
The GHMCs anti-mosquito effort has only 13 vehicle-mounted fogging machines and 150 portable fogging machines servicing the city. The GHMC uses DDT and malaria larvicidal (ML) oil to control breeding. DDT is banned in most countries as well as in India for agricultural use. However, it is still being used to fight mosquitoes despite a 2018 World Health Organisation (WHO) report on insecticide resistance showing data from India reporting "significantly higher" frequencies of DDT resistance in mosquitoes.
In Bengaluru, for example, pyrethrin and malathion are the two pesticides sprayed to control mosquito populations. Recently, experts have pointed out that pyrethrin, an organically derived compound, is more effective when used indoors while malathion is said to have greater effect when used outdoors.
The Hyderabad District Medical Health Officer, J Vankati insists that the only way to bring down dengue rates is through prevention, however, the officer admits the existing means to combat the issue is inadequate. "We cannot differentiate between the type of mosquitoes as preventive measures for both, malaria, dengue and chikungunya are the same," said the officer.
The GHMC has been spraying the harmful DDT across its 150 divisions with over 10 million people for almost a decade. With just 150 portable fogging machines for each division, a person goes door to door to fog one colony per day and covers anywhere between 50 to 100 colonies each depending on the size of the division.
Hyderabad-based NGO Welltech Foundation has been trying to get the GHMC to improve their efforts to combat mosquitoes for close to a decade. "They used to have just six vehicles until a few years ago," says Ch Veera Chary, President of Welltech Foundation, who alleged that the anti-mosquito operations and awareness campaigns carried out by Health Department and the GHMC are not coordinated. "Controlling the spread of malaria and dengue is done by gram panchayat, the municipality or the corporation but they don't coordinate with the Health Department. Only then the control measures will work. Even the content of the awareness campaigns being given to the communities is outdated and not scientific," says Chary.
According to the government, the silver lining this year was that the cases of malaria have gone down. There have been 47 detections in Hyderabad this year while there were 206 cases in 2017 and 151 in 2018.
Chary however alleged that this is not an indication that anti-mosquito measures are working. "Dengue is more common in cities but malaria is more widespread in the tribal belts and villages, of Badrachalam and Adilabad districts of Telangana," he added.
P Durga Prasad, a senior entomologist with the GHMC responsible for Secunderabad says his division has 22 units and three fogging machines. But are the resources enough for a locality with a population of 2.14 lakh? "No, if a division has 50 colonies and has one portable fogging machine, one person can cover 30 colonies in a division in 30 days but 20 colonies get left out. There is a demand for us to visit the colonies every week but it's not practical," says Prasad.
M Srinivas, an Assistant Entomologist for the Kukatpally and Qutbullapur part of Hyderabad says he has 6 divisions under him with four units of 19 people each, "At present, this is enough for the locality and we are able to cover each colony a week."
Meanwhile, B Bhaskar, an Assistant Entomologist covering the Amberpet, Khairatabad and Jubilee Hills area in the city says there is only one vehicle-mounted fogging machine for the areas under his jurisdiction. He is only able to provide fogging services once in a fortnight in some localities.
TNM spoke to several people in the GHMC who admitted that they are unsure if the anti-larva and fogging make any real impact.