World Health Day 2014

‘Small Bite, Big Threat’ is the slogan of  the World Health Organization (WHO) for this year’s World Health Day, which was celebrated on April 7, 2014. The idea behind it is to raise awareness regarding vector-bound diseases. Vectors here have nothing to do with maths or physics but refer to those incredibly annoying mosquitoes, ticks, flies etc. that seem to be just about anywhere, especially in India.

Most people know that these vectors can transmit fatal diseases like malaria and dengue, but still we don’t take any proper precautions to escape the wrath of those meddlesome mosquitoes. Stagnant water, improper housing facilities, bad water and sanitation facilities are just some of the factors that attract these vectors, who especially target the poorest populations of developing and under-developed countries. Spraying insecticide inside, sleeping under bed nets are cheap and effective methods to avoid getting infected. After all, it is much more time-efficient than running behind these vectors with a mosquito bat.

 

 

Map above averages the deaths across 2006-2011. Play with the controls on the right to learn more

According to WHO, these vectors lead to the deaths of over 1 million people worldwide. Worldwide 715000 people were reported dead due to malaria alone in 2011. In India, the reported number was said to be 754, however the estimated deaths is supposed to be 20-30 times higher, for the simple reason that the patients who do not make it to the hospitals do not get counted. The ones who do visit the hospital are likely to recover, and therefore this data provides an incomplete picture. WHO’s estimated figure is close to 29400, which implies that 10 people succumb to death every 3 hours in India. Other vector diseases that are rampant in India include Kala Azar, Filaria, Japanese Encephalitis, Chickungunya and Dengue. In fact, as per the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence, there were 1.5 times as many deaths due to Japanese Encephalitis than Malaria in 2011.

 

What is appalling is that a number of these diseases are re-emerging in new places due to increased international travel and trade. In a country which has a majority of its population housed in squalid quarters, with only 35% of its population has access to improved sanitation facilities, elimination of vector-bound diseases might sound like a far-fetched idea. But India is a country which successfully managed to eradicate polio although, less than a decade ago, it was believed to be an impossible task. So together I am positive that the human race at some point will successfully put an end to those monstrous vectors and the diseases they carry. But the issue here is to get this done as quickly as possible, before any more innocent lives are unjustly taken.

One way to end vector-bound diseases is to mass exterminate all the vectors. Imagine a SWAT team dropping down from helicopters at breeding sites and spraying insane amounts of permanent insecticide. Apart from the fact that it would be incredibly unfeasible, there is a major pitfall of this idea – as long as there are stagnant waters, bad housing and waste disposal systems, these ticks and mosquitoes will just spring back to life. Improving sanitation is the number 1 step to solving this issue. From 1990 to 2011, India’s sanitation has risen from 24.8% to 35%, which is slow but steady growth. Unfortunately this is not sufficient if we wish to eradicate vector-based diseases from India in the near future.

Percentage of Total Deaths (Malaria and Japanese Encephalitis)


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