Delhi's Dengue And Chikungunya Mess Is Not Just The Government's Fault—It's Ours Too

21/09/2016 4:00 AM IST | Updated 22/09/2016 8:29 AM IST
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It is that time of the year again when Delhiites are reeling under an outbreak of vector-borne diseases. Hospitals in the city are flooded with patients suffering from dengue and chikungunya. While there is some dispute about the exact number of deaths that can be attributed to these diseases, the statistics are alarming and only likely to worsen over the coming weeks.

Of course, this is not the first time that Delhi has been hit by an outbreak of this nature. It has been happening annually over the last few years in the period after the rainy season. So one would imagine that by now we would be fairly well prepared to not just minimize the impact of such outbreaks but preventing them from occurring in the first place. This, however, is not the case.

Over 75,000 houses in Delhi were found to have conditions conducive for the breeding of mosquitoes that carry the dengue virus... what does this say about our individual responsibility?

In India, the challenge with not just this epidemic but healthcare in general is that we are focused on cure instead of prevention. We know that prevention is definitely better than cure as well as more cost-effective but we have not been able to act on it.

Instead of implementing initiatives all year round to clean garbage dumps and drains around the city, successive governments step up efforts to reduce mosquito breeding primarily in the post-monsoon season. Awareness campaigns are also launched at these times when the reality is that they are likely to be much more effective and reach out to a larger number of people if implemented consistently throughout the year.

Similarly, there are many steps that each one of us can take to not only prevent ourselves from falling sick but also protect our families and neighbours. For instance, we know that mosquitoes like to breed not only in drains and garbage dumps but also inside homes in drums, jars, pots, buckets and flower vases. According to a report, during the first two weeks of August this year, over 75,000 houses in Delhi were found to have conditions which were conducive for breeding of mosquitoes that carry the dengue virus. Nearly 57% of these houses are in the South Delhi area, also one of the poshest parts of the city. So what does this say about our individual responsibility in preventing diseases and ill health?

Singapore spends only about 4% of its GDP on healthcare, yet it has been able to achieve developed world health outcomes. There are two major reasons for this. Firstly, there is a strong emphasis on health promotion and prevention. Secondly, individual citizens are held accountable for ensuring good health for all. For instance, they have a Control of Vectors and Pesticides Act which fines people who create a favourable environment for mosquito breeding within their premises. Repeat offenders can even be sent to prison. Compare this to India where some of the wealthiest homes are fertile grounds for mosquito breeding. Also, our government offices and even hospitals are not far behind.

Citizens need to play their part in being proactive about health-related issues and keeping their homes clean.

So, it is clearly not an awareness issue alone. Apathy and absence of individual accountability are just as important. We therefore need a multi-pronged approach involving all stakeholders. The government needs to take preventive steps throughout the year including finding appropriate solutions for the solid waste management problem, cleaning of drains and campaigns to raise awareness about steps that people can take to protect themselves from these diseases. Citizens need to play their part in being proactive about health-related issues and keeping their homes clean. Simple measures like wearing full-sleeved clothing can also go a long way in reducing contact with mosquitoes.

Yes, it is imperative that the government acts in a timely manner as opposed to being in a reactive mode year on year, but it's not deserving of all the blame. Each one of us has an equally crucial role to play in ensuring good health for ourselves.

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