According to the latest figures released by the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there has been a sharp rise in the number of dengue cases in Tamil Nadu. The state had the highest number of dengue cases reported in the country this year.
In 2016, Tamil Nadu reported 5 dengue deaths. In 2017, the number is 52. The nearly 800 percent increase also saw the reporting of 22,197 dengue cases this year alone compared to 2531 cases reported last year. The last time the state witnessed such a sharp rise in dengue cases was in 2012 when 12,826 cases were reported along with 66 deaths. This unprecedented rise of dengue cases in the state poses many questions of the state's preparedness for such a public health crisis as well as the methods it has taken to fight dengue.
Earlier in October, the government faced severe flak from many quarters for its public distribution of nilavembu kudineer, a nine-herb concoction prepared according to Siddha medicinal practices. While many questioned its effects on fertility according to a study in The Scientific World Journal, the Ayush Ministry which is purposed with developing, education and research on Indian traditional medicine advocated the concoction as being â€śAntipyretic (used to prevent or reduce fever), Analgesic (pain-relieving) and Anti-dengue activity proved.â€ť
Speaking to TNM at the time, Tamil Nadu Health Secretary J Radhakrishnan pointed out that like allopathic medicines; the niluvembu kudineer also has side effects. â€śEvery drug has side effects. We are advocating it as it has proven benefits in several countries.â€ť
Even at the diseaseâ€™s peak in October of this year, the Tamil Nadu government had only declared it a â€śsporadic outbreakâ€ť amidst calls for declaring a public health emergency. Since it has become increasingly clear that the dengue outbreak is not prevalent only during monsoon months, how effective are the mosquito spray drives conducted by the government?
When reached for comment, the Director for Public Health Dr. Kolandasamy said that the primary reason for the dengue outbreak is drought as has been the case all over India as well as neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia. He said, "There has been an increase across the country. During drought, there is a water shortage so water is stored. This leads to breeding of mosquitoes. During monsoon, unused containers cause the same issue."
While questioned about the effectiveness of the state's response especially the distribution of nilavembu kudineer, he said that measures such as improving water supply, removal of unused containers and distributing nilavembu kudineer have worked in conjunction with the primary focus on prevention of breeding sites.
The overall picture looks gloomy for the rest of the southern states as well with Kerala witnessing the second highest rate of dengue cases and Karnataka at third. Kerala has suffered a 165 percent rise in case of dengue while in Karnataka it is 172 percent. Both states report 42 deaths in total, of which 37 are in Kerala.
"In some states, only confirmed cases are reported. But in Kerala, we report probable cases as well to make field level action more effective. The state will soon declare a vector control policy to control the emergence and spread of communicable diseases in the coming year. Normally, control and awareness measures begin ahead of the monsoon, but next year it will last throughout the year," state epidemiologist Dr Sukumaran said.
"Integrated vector management will be intensified with the coordination of different departments to eradicate mosquitos at breeding point. Fogging and internal spraying will be intensified. Involvement of community will be ensured and people will be sensitised about their role in vector control aiming a change in the behavioural pattern," he added.
Earlier in October, dengue claimed 15 lives in Andhra Pradesh in a single day although the overall numbers remain low for both AP and Telangana. In 2017 alone, India has seen 1,53,635 reported cases of the disease.