Raining of diseases

Cases of dengue are spiralling across the country. While Kerala appears to be the worst hit with over 2,167 dengue cases reported this year, Karnataka and Delhi are snapping at its heels. The World Health Organisation has warned that the dengue epidemic will peak in October, which means that we can expect the number of cases and fatalities to increase in the coming weeks. Across South Asia, the monsoons bring more than rain and respite from heat.

They bring floods and an array of epidemics. The spread of various flu viruses gather momentum with the onset of the monsoons. This year too has seen an explosion of cases of flu and other viral infections. Thanks to poor sanitation and drainage facilities, heavy rains mean stagnant water in cities, especially in low-lying areas, which provide an ideal breeding ground for a variety of disease carrying mosquitoes.

It also means overflowing sewage and contamination of drinking water contributing to diseases like cholera. It is not the rain that should be blamed for the health problems but poor drainage and sanitary conditions. Besides fogging and distribution of anti-malaria tablets, civic authorities do little to prevent this annual attack on public health.

With Delhi hosting the Commonwealth Games in less than a month from now, the international media spotlight is on the severity of the health crisis in the capital. Some have blamed water-logging at construction sites as the main source of dengue causing mosquitoes.

The government has sought to calm the public by describing the health situation as a crisis, not an epidemic. But countries like Australia, New Zealand, the US and Britain have issued travel advisories to their citizens. These advisories seem rather alarmist and discriminatory. Are these countries free of strains of flu that can kill? Have the US, Britain, etc forgotten that barely a year ago, they were reeling under a swine flu epidemic on a proportion rarely seen before?

That there is a dengue health crisis across the country that warrants action is undoubted. Indeed, it is time authorities took steps to prevent this annual disease ritual. Of course, international action to fight these diseases is welcome, not in the form of panic-inducing travel warnings but through research and making available medicines and vaccines at affordable rates to the poorest.

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