Pondichery: The gnats live on

Even the memory of initial success of bioenvironmental approach has been wiped off

 
Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

Pondichery: The gnats live on

Filariasis, another disease spread by mosquitoes, is a greater problem in southern India than in the north. In extreme cases, it is marked by swelling of the feet known as elephantiasis. From 1981 to 1986, the vcrc achieved filariasis control in Pondicherry just by improving the town's environmental sanitation. But there is nobody in the present state health department to recall this. No follow-up work was done by the state government. The vcrc has been reduced to a mere monitoring body.

Pondicherry is replete with breeding grounds for mosquitoes. An area of only 60 sq km in the city has 100,000 sq metres of cisterns and cess pools, 75,000 sq metres of drains, 5,000 sq metres of cess pits, apart from 4,000 wells. Six major canals, 10 km in length, carry sludge from the town. Because of the slope, some of these canals become large swamps of highly polluted water at the point where they join the sea. In addition, there are 80-90 km of feeder drains in which water stagnates because of lack of de-silting and de-weeding. Consequently, the city breeds nine million mosquitoes every January, according to the vcrc .

From 1983 to 1985, the vcrc toiled relentlessly to clean the city's water and sewer systems. Sea water was used to flush 50 km of previously clogged drains, destroying mosquito eggs. Stagnant water pools were filled and fish were let loose in open wells to feed on insects. The largest breeding ground, a 200-hectare swamp, was reclaimed, afforested and turned into a public park. Results were astounding: less than one per cent of the mosquitoes survived. According to P K Rajagopalan, former director, vcrc , the centre had effectively managed the sanitation and environment in close cooperation with the municipal, health and town planning authorities.

When vcrc handed over the filariasis control project to the state government in 1986, it passed on the Rs 800,000-grant too, Rajagopalan recalls. "Nobody knows where the money was given. But their priority was not mosquito control. They diverted the money to recruit new staff, for other purposes," he explains. What was lacking, according to Rajagopalan, was willpower to complete the time-bound job. The staff strength was considerably reduced. Rajagopalan also blames political interference. But he denies the presence of a pesticide lobby that was pushing the city towards pesticides. P K Das, director, vcrc , also blames the governmental system that stands in the way of effective implementation of bioenvironmental measures. "I declare that the increase in incidence of filariasis or malaria is not due to the absence of tools or lack of technology. It is purely because of workers' resistance to work. Nobody wants to work in the field. I am sorry to say this," he complains.

Rajagopalan says that way back in the 1980s, vcrc officials found that they gained the trust of the public if they patiently listened to their woes -- even those not affected by mosquitoes. The complaints from the public were promptly referred to the state government officials and agencies for follow-up. Besides, people were urged to destroy mosquito breeding within their houses by means of posters depicting popular mythological stories and bill-boards.

Unfortunately, no figures are available for the pre-1985 scenario to compare the impact of the project, and thereafter at the state level now. The situation of filariasis is sufficiently alarming, according to the records of the nmep . Some 10,000 chronic cases of filariasis and an additional 30,000 cases of micro filariasis were detected annually by the nmep between 1991 and 1994. The numbers of cases will be much more as the nmep 's surveillance system is poor.

With a steep rise in filariasis, indifference on part on the state government and lack of funds to carry on with bioenvironmental programmes, vcrc has reverted to drug-oriented programmes. "This they do, knowing well that indiscriminate use of drugs will precipitate resistance," says Das.

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