In all the noise around COVID-19 — the risks from malaria, dengue and chikungunya are ignored

Prevention is best way to mitigate the risk of malaria, dengue and chikungunya Unsplash

  • Vector-borne diseases — including malaria, dengue and chikungunya — cost India nearly $3 billion to $4 billion every year.
  • The impact of such diseases could increase the burden on a recessionary economy if essential actions like individual protection measures are not taken into consideration.
  • The importance of essential measures like wearing clothes that minimise skin exposure, and using mosquito repellents is all the more important with authorities already being stretched thin.
Vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue and chikungunya aren’t cheap for India. They carry a socio-economic burden of $3 billion to $4 billion every year for India, according to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO).


“Post-COVID, what it does to a recessionary economy that’s slowing down, nobody can predict,” said Sunil Kataria, CEO of Godrej Consumers Products in India, during the ‘Stop the Spread’ panel with Business Insider India.

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A man sleeps inside an auto-rickshaw covering with a mosquito net in KurlaBCCL

However, with the coronavirus pandemic taking hold in India, vector-borne diseases aren’t on top of people’s list of concerns. “Every fever is not necessarily coronavirus. People need to understand, that particularly now, the seasonality of vector-borne diseases, that there are other things to be wary of,” said Marcus Ranney of Thrive Global India.

This is highlighted by a poll that First Moms Club conducted to find that 95% of mothers are only thinking about the coronavirus — not vector-borne diseases. “This is not a topic that’s come up, which used to come up till last year around this time,” said Ruchita Dar Shah, the Founder and CEO of First Moms Club.

Mosquito repellent used in housesBCCL

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With the authorities already stretched thin, not taking the necessary steps to prevent diseases like malaria, dengue and chikungunya could stress the economy even further. Essential actions like wearing clothes that minimise skin exposure — especially during the day — using mosquito repellents, household aerosol products, mosquito coils can reduce the risk.

Vector-borne diseases were already increasing before coronavirus
Dengue has affected more than two lakh people in 2019. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s estimates show that 25 states and union territories (UTs) across India have reported an increase in the number of dengue cases from 2018 to 2019.

Employees of BMCC perform an anti-malaria fumigation drive inside a slum in Kalina, Mumbai BCCL

“Since late 2019 the cases of dengue started increasing,” said Kaushik Sarkar, the India technical lead for Malaria No More. Data provided by the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) shows that the total number of combined dengue, malaria and chikungunya cases in 2019 came up to 487,730.
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“This year, malaria interventions have been pushed back, because of the lockdown and other measures that have prevented mass level interventions,” said Sarkar citing that there is every potential for a “large upsurge of cases” of malaria and dengue this year if essential precautions aren’t taken at an individual level to prevent the spread of the disease.

Students of St Aloysius College, Mangaluru cleaning Bunder area — identified as a high-risk area for malaria and other vector-borne diseases.BCCL

Climate change is allowing mosquitoes to thrive
An additional point of concern this year is that climate change is altering the geographical and seasonal distribution of vector-borne diseases. Normally, between March 15 to April 15 the number of mosquitoes increases. And then, with the summers coming in, there is a sharp drop in mosquito infestation until the monsoon season kicks in.

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“Ever since the lockdown has happened, we haven’t seen a drop. It’s the first time that we have seen such a change. Between April and May, there’s been a steady pattern of mosquito infestation in the country,” said Kataria, highlighting how climate change is also responsible for the increase in cyclones across the country and locust attacks in the northern parts of India.

A potter making earthen lamps under an anti-mosquito coil to protect himself from the dengue mosquito at Mandiri Mohalla locality in Patna, BiharBCCL

“Global climate is adding a new variable to the fight against vector-borne diseases,” Kataria explained.

While India battles coronavirus, it’s important to remember that the fight against malaria, dengue and chikungunya is ongoing. Offices and large spaces have remained shut during the lockdown, where water may have collected providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes, as per Ranney. He cites prevention being the only cure during the current crisis.
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While there is no reason to be scared it’s essential to be aware, take the right actions and ensure prevention at an individual level.

Disclaimer: Business Insider has partnered with Godrej Consumer Products Limited to help you take the necessary steps to prevent VBD.
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