The first dengue case in the city was reported on April 11 this year and the monsoon plans were still being drawn up by the three Municipal Corporations of Delhi. Efforts to contain the spread of the disease were visible on the ground only after the monsoons had set in, despite the national capital having witnessed more than 14,000 cases of dengue and 32 reported deaths in 2015.
The foot soldiers of the MCD in fighting the spread of vector-borne diseases are the DBCs. They are engaged on contract by the three MCDs between May and October and go door-to-door before and during the monsoons to and check for “mosquito-genic” conditions. In the North Corporation, there are 129 sanctioned posts of ‘Malaria Inspectors’, but the civic body has only 50. There is a single epidemiologist as against a required six. Similarly, instead of 15 Senior Malaria Inspectors required to supervise ground staff in different zones, the corporation employs one. In the East, all seven vacancies for Senior Malaria Inspectors are vacant and there are 19 Malaria Inspector in place, against a required 65.
Additionally, more than 1,400 DBCs in the North, 700 in the East and approximately 1,100 in the South are all contractually employed for the monsoon period. According to the latest report, the DBCs have visited over 2.8 crore households in Delhi and have issued close to 1 lakh legal notices after finding conditions conducive to mosquito breeding.
Fogging begins well into the monsoons. Civic officials admit it is not “very effective” and merely a “reassurance measure”, which does little containment and no prevention. Yet, the government’s first response to outbreaks in previous years has been to step up fogging, before moving on to adding beds in hospitals and issue reminders to the public to keep surroundings clean.
Inter-sectoral coordination committee meetings for prevention and control of vector-borne diseases start in June to discuss responsibilities between government departments and the MCDs ahead of the monsoons. In July, the North corporation distributed mosquito nets laced with insecticides through its councillors. A Japanese company gave it over 1 lakh such nets under its Corporate Social Responsibility scheme.
The corporations also issued an advisory highlighting the need to pay attention to educational institutions and work places based on an assessment that 65 per cent of dengue cases the previous year were reported in the 15 to 45 years age group. Even with these measures, chikungunya spiked 20 times and crossed 500 this year, dengue crossed the 700 mark and the city recorded its first malaria death in six years. Meanwhile, fogging began in August, amid allegations and perceptions that the corporations waited since the disease had not assumed “epidemic proportions”.
The fogging machines used by the municipal corporations in Delhi spray 95 litres of diesel mixed with insecticides in an hour. The MCDs procure the insecticides in bulk at the beginning of each financial year, while the diesel is bought as part of their day-to-day expenditure. Officials estimate the approximate cost of fogging to be up to Rs 6,000 per colony per hour. Therefore, in any particular colony, when fogging is carried out once in 10 days, for two hours each in the morning and evening, the cost of a day’s fogging in a colony is about Rs 24,000. According to health officials familiar with the process, fogging remains effective in the air for just five minutes and does not eliminate the risk of dengue.