Thursday, September 9, 2010

Delhi under dengue siege

India's image abroad has always been that of an eccentric, though beloved, relative with an amazing past and fabulous stories to tell. Chaos is second nature to Indians, and most difficulties are borne with a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders. The mantra is that "it will all work out as it's meant to". But the problems plaguing Delhi as it gears up for the Commonwealth Games have shaken up even the most sanguine of Indians.

For a time, those of us living in India could only gaze on with horror as the games looked set to be one of the biggest sporting shambles in living memory. Shoddy construction and allegations of corruption threatened to end the games before they even began.

Then disease struck. Swine flu is making quite the comeback, with Delhi as its epicentre, and malaria is wreaking its usual havoc in the rainy season. But the biggest problem has been dengue fever. Creating mammoth pools of stagnant water in ditches and holes dug during construction for the games was like waving a red flag to dengue-carrying mosquitoes that are now terrorising the city.

Official numbers say there are about 1500 cases in the city, though non-government sources say it could be twice that. This week, thousands of healthcare staff tasked with checking homes for signs of mosquito breeding have gone on strike, which the Delhi government has not been able to end. In desperation, it is thinking of asking the Indian army to step in to help.

The frustrating thing is that none of this is a great surprise. To say that the Indian government should have seen this coming is an understatement. Dengue hits the city every year.

Earlier this summer, Indian officials were
confidently reporting that they had recruited thousands of workers to check mosquito breeding sites, but they have done little to ensure the workers' loyalty. Residents groups also complained that they had seen little of these breeding checkers in Delhi neighbourhoods. Last week, in an embarrassing twist, the country's top medical institute, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, became a dengue hotspot because it had several unchecked mosquito breeding areas on the campus.

How the epidemic will play out when thousands of athletes and visitors descend on Delhi in the coming weeks remains to be seen. But this is an infection that we can't yet prevent with vaccines or cure with drugs - controlling the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads is the only way. If the government seriously takes charge of mosquito control, rather than worrying about beautifying the city, they might stand a chance of avoiding a public health disaster.


  1. India in 2008, dengue siege.
    Thanks for the information priya

  2. Thanks for the Informasiana
    verywell and thank you.....
    Good article you have here.