Dengue ground zero: Mosquito fight — in 5 minutes

This is not the first time figures related to the dengue-chikungunya fight have come under scanner.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi | Updated: June 15, 2017 5:36:16 am
dengue, delhi dengue, delhi chikungunya, mosquito fight, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, mosquito borne diseases, dbc, india news, delhi news, delhi high court At Abul Fazal Enclave in Okhla, one of the worst hit areas under the South Delhi Municipal Corporation last year. Express Photo by Praveen Khanna

That’s all the time a domestic breeding checker has to figure out if there are mosquitoes at one home, and educate residents about vector-borne diseases. Doing the job properly takes thrice as long, finds The Indian Express

On April 28, the Delhi High Court was told by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation that domestic breeding checkers (DBCs) had made 91 lakh visits to conduct door-to-door inspection of mosquito breeding between January 1 and April 22 this year.

A week later, on May 5, the SDMC filed another affidavit, this time stating that DBCs had inspected 39 lakh houses by April 29.

“This is a misleading figure… how can there be a decrease (in house visits),” pointed out advocate Arpit Bhargava, who has filed a PIL in court demanding action against MCDs for their handling of vector-borne diseases. The court then cautioned the MCD: “Get your act together… ensure people do not suffer.”

This is not the first time figures related to the dengue-chikungunya fight have come under scanner.

As the capital reeled under a chikungunya outbreak last year, the National Green Tribunal, in September 2016, said, “The officer present before us has submitted that he has 700 people and they have visited 8 lakh houses, meaning that there were 56 lakh visits. This statement is difficult to believe and we, in fact, do not believe it.”

With Delhi recording the maximum number of cases of vector-borne infections — 40 of dengue and 96 of chikungunya — recorded in the first five months of 2017 as compared to the last six years, 1,171 DBCs working on a contractual basis are at the forefront of the fight to prevent another outbreak. Malaria inspectors say there should be about 50 DBCs for each of the 272 wards.

Considered the backbone of infection control, DBCs are responsible for inspection of houses, imparting health education and taking anti-mosquito measures. But a staff crunch is proving to be a major obstacle.

‘Token’ visits

The most stark fallout of this can be found in the basement of G-77/2 in Shaheen Bagh in Okhla, one of the worst-hit areas under the SDMC last year.

This was where Mohammed Allaudin, a watchman, used to stay with his 13-year-old daughter. The girl died in September last year after testing positive for chikungunya. Her death — the first in the ward — sent shockwaves in the area, prompting authorities to carry out anti-larval activities and DBCs to examine mosquito breeding in the building.

Since then, not a single DBC has visited the house.

“The only time they visited was when the death was reported. That, too, was a token visit,” says Syed Aftab, who stays on the second floor. Entries made by the DBC for the ward, accessed by The Indian Express, show visits were made to the block.

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Entries reveal that 14 DBCs have been employed, against a sanctioned strength of 18, at Shaheen Bagh. An entry dated June 3, 2017, reveals that the DBC assigned for G block visited 57 houses, and 51 houses a day earlier. However, he did not issue a single notice or challan.

“I was transferred to this area a month ago. Issuing a challan here is very tough. One does not know who the house owner is. Most are tenants, so we can’t issue challans,” says the malaria inspector, who travels from Najafgarh, 40 km away, every day.

An uphill task

It only takes a day with a DBC to understand how challenging their job can be.

A 45-year-old DBC, who did not wish to be named, begins his day at 10 am. He is supposed to cover 344 buildings in Shaheen Bagh. “Don’t think I have to cover just 344 houses. Here, 344 buildings mean about 9,500 households, including unauthorised ones. So if I visit a house today, it is impossible to visit it in the next six months. Because of staff shortage, a DBC can only visit a household twice a year,” the man, who has been working on contract basis for over 20 years, says.

This DBC spends about 15 minutes in each household. “We work eight hours a day, and cover about 32 homes in that period. The MCD has given us a target of 50-60 houses, which is possible only if I spend less than 10 minutes per house. Checking a cooler and a refrigerator alone takes that much time. The targets set by the authorities is not possible,” he says.

However, going by official figures, 1,171 DBCs made 1.43 crore visits across the city between January and June. This translates to each DBC covering over 2,400 houses per month. By this logic, a DBC doesn’t spend more than five minutes in each household.

“Authorities don’t give us a vehicle; we walk for kilometres in the heat, climb several floors,” he says. “For two months, I was asked to go to households to verify addresses of pensioners. We had to jeopardise our actual work because of this. In other wards, DBCs are given work related to tax collection.”

DBCs are supposed to be monitored by malaria inspectors. “Each inspector has to monitor 14 DBCs and six field workers looking after drains. He also has to makes spot visits and check anti-larval activity. But he can only keep a track of about three DBCs each day,” he says.

“We get Rs 13,000 per month, and no benefits. This uniform was given three years ago. Last year, I suffered from chikungunya. The year before, I suffered from dengue and was hospitalised. Now, I hear they are giving us digital tablets. The government needs to give us medical benefits, not tablets,” the DBC says.

The malaria inspector monitoring him has other worries. “I travel 100 km every day. I can’t spend a lot of time here. They should assign areas depending on where you live,” he says.

An officer working at SDMC mayor Kamaljeet Sehrawat’s office said she is out of the country. Officials said “there is no proposal to hire more DBCs”.

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