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| Last Updated:07/07/2020

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Tripura is grappling with an outbreak of malaria

In the month of June 2014, Tripura state found itself in the grip of an unprecedented malaria outbreak Ninety-three kilometres from Agartala, in Dhalai District. In five of its eight districts, Dhalai, is one of India’s 250 most backward districts, and is the epicenter of the malaria crisis. The first cases (eight deaths of which six were children) was reported from the Gandachara subdivision of the district on June 10th 2014. The outbreak of malaria and fever was reported from the tribal-dominated hilly areas of 11 sub-divisions under five districts- Dhalai, Gomti, Khowai, North Tripura and South Tripura.
According to the state government, more than 1,01,025 people, comprising mainly tribals, have fallen ill with malaria and fever. As on date 69 peoplehave died and more than 31,374 have been infected. Ninety percent of the dead are children who are below the age of 10 years. This is due to malnutrition with low immunity of tribal children. In 2013, also there were 2,561 malaria cases with one death. The ground reality is said to be much higher. “Though the state is a malaria endemic zone, it never had such a health crisis. Until July 13, the state health department has organized 4,078 health camps and large-scale sensitization programmes. The public health centers (PHCs) have sufficient quantity of second-generation medicines (the state was declared malaria-drug resistant in 2009) and rapid diagnostic kits (RDK). DDT (used for vector control) spray teams sprayed even to the “inaccessible” mountainous areas, home to Primitive Tribal Groups (PGT) like the Reangs, the Tripuri and the Molsom.
Globally, the death toll for malaria is falling. The same is the case in other parts of India. This sudden resurgence of the vector-borne disease could have been averted only if the state had taken several proactive steps between March and June, the mosquito breeding season.
One of the main reasons for the malaria epidemic is delay in DDT spraying. The Additional Director of the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) Dr Avadesh Kumar said that all North-Eastern states had performed well in tackling vector-borne diseases except Tripura which had performed miserably. According to NVBDCP, malaria claimed 1,018 lives in 2010 in India, 754 in 2011, 519 in 2012 and 440 in 2013. Over a 100 people die every year from the disease in the seven northeastern states, excluding Sikkim.
Since many tribals do not complete the full course of drugs, they become drug resistant and are moving reservoirs, once a mosquito bites them, it can infect others. Many malaria cases are reported even in winter because of this phenomenon. As May-June is peak season for jhum cultivation the tribals’ are toiling in fields that are swarmed with mosquitoes the tribals do not wear clothes that fully cover their bodies, hence they are susceptible to mosquito bites.
The tribals are reluctant to give blood for testing; they don’t allow DDT spraying inside their homes, which have poor sanitation, they also rear pigs close to their homes. Dr. Padma Jamatia, Dhalai district malaria officer, said that the government needs to revise its communication plan. “You cannot end malaria; the vectors are more powerful than us. We are now working on a comprehensive plan to avoid such an outbreak again,” Dhalai district collector Dr. Ramteke promised.
International doctors to check malaria outbreak in Tripura
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an independent international medical humanitarian organisation, has extended its help to control the outbreak of malaria in Tripura, where over 60 people have died due to the disease and thousands have fallen ill in the past one month, an official said here Thursday. A three-member MSF team arrived here Wednesday along with medicines.