At least 35 people died of malaria in 1983 in Nadiad taluka of Gujarat's Kheda district. The Malaria Research Centre, with V P Sharma as director, began its work on bioenvironmental control here. This was a response to the failure of the National Malaria Eradication Programme (NMEP), which was all about residual insecticide sprays and chemotherapy to prevent the resurgence of malaria. Three decades of success with this approach was followed by three kinds of resistance.

l Parasites were becoming resistant to drugs.

l Mosquitoes were developing resistance against chemical insecticides.

l The people of Nadiad were becoming resistant to the idea of spraying toxic insecticides.

MRC's approach was people-centred, encouraging them to fight the disease. It involved two things.

l Biological management: Releasing larvae-eating fish in open waterbodies -- varieties that serve this purpose include Guppy ( Poecilia reticulata ) and Gambusia ( Gambusia affinis ) -- and spraying biological larvicides, rather than chemical ones.

l Environmental management: Improving drainage and sanitation systems, filling up ditches, use of treated mosquito nets, and covering of domestic water tanks.

For five years, MRC staff toiled relentlessly to eliminate breeding sources without the use of chemicals. By 1989, when the project ended in 1989 after the Indian Council of Medical Research refused to extend it, the results were all there to see.

The bioenvironmental approach turns the problem into not just a solution but also a source of income generation. This strategy utilises local resources and humanpower, involving community partnership through sustained efforts in health education. Fish culture, social forestry, cottage industries and alternate sources of energy, among other things, are linked with malaria control to make it holistic and self-sustained.

The strongest reason for recommending this approach in India is the decentralised character -- it involves communities in taking up malaria control themselves, rather than wait for government agencies to spray DDT. It is an indigenous, low-cost and highly efficient technology that doesn't require expensive equipment and training. It is the cheapest method of malaria control as compared to the cheapest pesticide DDT. The approach results in overall improvement of the environment and the local economy, bringing about integrated rural development.
Down To Earth