Dr Gaurav Aggarwal, anti-malaria officer, UT health department, in an interview with Indian Express, talks about the preparedness of the department and the preventive measures being taken to tackle the vector-borne and water-borne diseases before the onset of monsoon season in the city
Tell us about the preparedness of the health department in tackling the diseases witnessed during the monsoon.
We have started preparations for both vector and water-borne diseases. Water stagnation and lack of personal hygiene are the two factors that lead to vector-borne diseases. In our house-to-house surveys so far, we have found that one of the factors responsible for water-borne diseases is that the containers used to store water are not being cleaned properly. Cut fruits and open food vendors are also some of the sources of these diseases. Hepatitis cases are also being reported in the city and we have started IEC activities and taking steps to prevent the outbreak of more such cases. We are taking special care of high zone areas so.
What is the present situation of vector-borne diseases in the city?
The situation for vector-borne diseases, including dengue, malaria and JE, at present is in control. In Chandigarh, we are dealing mostly with malaria and dengue. So far, three positive cases of malaria are reported in the city. No dengue cases have been reported in the city so far.
Do you think there is awareness among people about these diseases?
Not that much. People complain that they receive impure water, which is not true. Our surveys have revealed that water storage containers in the houses are not clean. So, more awareness is needed.
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What have you done to address the problem of impure water supply?
We have taken steps for chlorination of water supply channels. We have cleaned all the tube wells with the joint efforts of the municipal corporation. The civic body is also ensuring that chlorination is done everywhere to prevent water contamination. We ensure that there is no problem in the water supply from our side and everything is clean and pure.
What can be done to avoid water-borne diseases?
People should avoid eating food from eateries. Cut fruits being sold out in the open are not clean leading to these diseases. People should stop eating roadside food for the next two months. I am sure if people start taking preventive measures, no case will be reported from anywhere in the city. We are approaching the area councilors to make the people understand about the issue.
Since when are you expecting cases of vector and water-borne diseases?
We are likely to start receiving dengue cases from September and malaria from next month. Cases of air-borne diseases like swine flu might get reported from December or January. We are ready to tackle such diseases. The health department and the municipal corporation have strengthened the IEC activities, medicines have been kept available across the city hospitals. We have taken all the steps required to prevent such diseases.
Do you think that malaria can be eliminated from the city?
Yes, the number of malaria cases is only 3 so far this year. It is a big achievement and it is an indication that we are doing well and we can eliminate malaria from the city. The reporting mechanism has been strengthened. Apart from the government sector, we have started taking reports from the private sector as well. We have already issued advisories to ensure that the private labs and diagnostic centres report to us within an hour after a case if found positive.
Once a case is reported, what is the course of action?
According to the protocol, as soon as we get the report, we immediately swing into action and check the 150 nearby houses and do the blood sampling. The idea is to stop the transmission and so far we are successful in stopping the transmission.
What are the challenges you are facing?
The biggest challenge we are dealing is the migratory population. They visit different states and come back with an infection, which increases the risk for the city residents. Another important factor is that that they do not even take the medicines prescribed by the doctors.
The movement of migratory population cannot be stopped. What is the strategy to deal with the situation?
We cannot stop them. But we have taken steps to prevent the spread of such diseases. We have done the mapping of the areas where most of the migratory population lives. We are doing house-to-house surveys.
Which are the states that report the maximum number of cases?
The maximum cases are being reported from Uttar Pradesh, followed by Punjab and Haryana. There are some cases of Himachal. The challenge is when a patient comes to the city and is bitten by a mosquito here, the infection gets transmitted into the mosquito, which in turn infect other people.
Does Chandigarh witness lesser number of cases as compared to other states?
We are witnessing lesser number of cases in Chandigarh because of support from the administration and timely intervention. Role of various stakeholders is also helping us.
Last year, we had witnessed more than 1,000 cases of dengue. What is likely to be the situation this year?
According to the weather conditions prevailing in Chandigarh, there is intermittent rainfall and rising temperature. It indicates that there may be an increase in the cases. But we have already started the testing at our four centers in the city. Earlier it used to be done in September. But, this year we have started it early. We don’t expect many cases of swine flu this year.
Are you getting support from people?
During our enforcement drives last year, we came to know that people are aware about dengue and malaria. They are aware of the challaning. People now do not let stagnant water store outside their houses. There is also an awareness campaign by the children. However, more awareness is required.
Recently, PGI was served notice by the health department for not keeping the premises clean. What is the situation of other government departments?
We have sent letters to government offices to ensure that they keep their buildings clean. Till date, we have not seen any major breeding points. We are also getting the support of government officials and councillors. The government offices have designated people to clean the coolers.
What will be the cost for testing at private labs in the city this year?
The notification that was there last year is valid till September this year. If anybody seeks extra charge from the people, action will be taken against them and challans will be issued. The good news is that people inform us on the helpline numbers, if any lab asks for extra amount for testing. We have inspected few labs last week to see what are they charging.
Are you hopeful that all the seasonal diseases will be eliminated from the city?
The health department is already geared up and we need support from people. The department is focusing on prevention. We are now checking every disease from 360 degrees. The best thing is that now everyone is on the same platform with one goal to eliminate communicable diseases from the city in the future.