New Delhi: Neglected Tropical Diseasesare widespread in several African, Asian, and Latin American countries, where people don’t have access to clean water, and sanitation, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). NDTV- Dettol Banega Swasth India team travelled to Uttar Pradesh’s eastern border district called Deoria to track down the Kala Azar infections that are prevalent in this region. The team met 19-year-old Pinky Chauhan in Nearwa village, which is 75 kilometres from Deoria. Ms. Chauhan is a survivor of Kala Azar Fever. She is involved in the Kala Azar public awareness campaign for her village and the surrounding settlements.
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Speaking of her experience contracting the infection, Ms. Chauhan said,
I was 12-years-old when I got the infection, and that was in 2015. At the time, my family was not aware of what Kala Azar was. I was down with a fever for more than two weeks. I tried multiple medicines, but there was no change in my health. In the end, I was taken to Bankata Block, a primary healthcare centre here, where I was examined. They used rK39 for diagnosis. Later, I was taken to Deoria and then to Kushinagar. Now I am finally out of it.
Ms. Chauhan had the BL strain of black fever, and she was infected with the second variant, Post Kala-Azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL).
As a Kala Azar survivor, Ms. Chauhan is part of a survivors network organised and run by an NGO called CFAR, or The Centre for Advocacy and Research. She visits schools and villages in Bankata block to inform residents that if they have a fever for more than two weeks, they should be tested for kala azar.It is an awareness that is sorely lacking, a lack that gets in the way of diagnosis and treatment. And that can be dangerous because Kala Azar can be fatal if left untreated.
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District Coordinator for the Center for Advocacy and Research, Deep Narayan, said,
The survivors are being trained as ‘warriors’. People get impressed by their storytelling, and this also helps them not get lost and get the right treatment.
Kala Azar, or black fever, is the second-deadliest parasitic disease in the world after malaria. This vector borne disease spreads to humans from the bite of a specific kind of sand fly also known as ‘Baloo Makhi’ in the local language of this region. Ms. Chauhan was explaining Kala Azar symptoms,
The symptoms include having a fever for one to two weeks. A person loses his or her/his appetite, drops weight, and becomes anaemic and slowly, the skin becomes blackish in colour.”
The Kala Azar that ‘Baloo Makhi’ has found a home in the poor villages of this region where there are mud houses. It is in these moist, dark cracks and crevices that this tiny sandfly thrives.
In Uttar Pradesh, there are five districts that are Kala Azar hot spots, including Deoria, Banaras, Baliya, Bhadohi, and Kushinagar. There are as many as 29 villages in the Bankata block of this region affected by the disease, including Ms. Chauhan’s.
Speaking to the team, the Chief Medical Officer detailed the work of the district administration in Kala Azar.
We work on three aspects – the first one is testing, to test fever cases specifically in this area. This area used to be affected by Japanese Encephalitis. We look at the fever cases closely and keep an eye out for Kala Azar’s diagnosis. It is important to track those patients and treat them. So far, we have had eight cases, so we have covered all the areas that are around these reported cases. This is our routine.
The treatment for Kala Azar includes a rk39 test that shows if you are positive or negative and a medicine that helps combat the viral infection immediately.
Speaking about the programmes related to the infection, the medical officer said,
Every programme has three phases: control, elimination, and eradication. Polio has been eradicated and we see, Kala Azar is in the elimination phase, which means that its prevalence is less than one per 10,000 people.
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NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.