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Wanted: new strategy to fight the bite

Experts have called for a “close re-look” at the existing malaria control strategy in the state and urged the government to give due importance to entomologists (insect-related experts). At the end of a recent workshop on malaria control held in Calcutta, they resolved to prepare a detailed report on this and present it to the government.

Mosha, a book released by entomologist Debasish Biswas during the session, stressed this point, providing documentary evidence that the National Anti-Malaria Control’s directive regarding entomological control of the disease has been “systematically flouted” in various parts of the country.

The two-day workshop ‘The Story of Three M – Man, Mosquito & Malaria’ was organised by the Environment Governed Integrated Organisation (EnGIO) and Lions Club Sanjibani. National and international malaria experts deliberated on how to control this fatal disease, which has undergone both quantitative and qualitative changes since the Eighties.

State municipal affairs and urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya inaugurated the workshop and spoke on the importance of understanding malaria, which “has become increasingly urban in nature”. He also observed that “internationally, there has been a tendency to underplay it in comparison to diseases like AIDS or cancer”. The World Bank has found malaria to be the “biggest disease” for 20 per cent of the world’s poorest population.

Pratyush Mukherjee, minister of state, health and family welfare, admitted this apparent “step-brotherly attitude” towards malaria despite it being the most problematic disease in developing and underdeveloped countries. He indicated that the World Bank’s annual grant to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) may run dry next year and stressed the need for an information database and micro-planning to combat malaria.

Javed Ahmed Khan, mayor-in-council (health), admitted to a financial crunch, but noted that “the work culture of CMC employees leaves a lot to be desired”. He also stated that there weren’t enough NGOs addressing this particular problem.

Experts ranging from Amiya Hati, former director of Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, to Falguni Guha Roy, in charge of malaria control in Nicaragua, were more or less unanimous in their view that “not the financial crunch, but the lack of proper policy is the reason the disease is still affecting more than a lakh people in Bengal every year”.

Entomologists have been neglected in malaria-control in West Bengal, and their job is being carried out unsuccessfully by doctors, they observed. Asoke Mukherjee, joint director of the National Anti-Malaria Programme, in charge of eastern India, expressed surprise that West Bengal does not have a single entomologist in the health system. “Even the CMC has about 125 doctors and only one entomologist,” a number of doctors observed.

“How can a doctor be expected to do the work of an entomologist'” opined experts Sajal Bhattacharya and Arun Sen. Falguni Guha Roy dwelt at length on how incidences of “malaria could be drastically reduced through larvae control”.

EnGIO’s project in charge and workshop co-ordinator Jayanta Basu told Metro that “an elaborate discussion paper from the workshop’s deliberations is in the process of being prepared. This will be submitted to the government shortly”. The workshop also had a unique photographic exhibition highlighting various aspects of the disease.

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