New Delhi: April 25 is marked as World Malaria Day, an occasion to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria prevention and control. The day was instituted by World Health Organization Member States during the World Health Assembly of 2007. Every year, the day is marked with a theme, this year, it is being celebrated with the theme – “Time to deliver zero malaria: invest, innovate, implement”. This year, WHO is focussing on the third “i” – implement – and highlights the importance of reaching marginalized populations with the tools and strategies that are available today.
As per the statistics shared by WHO, Malaria is still a threat for the world, as in 2021, the world faced 6,19,000 malaria deaths, with 247 million new cases of malaria being reported in 2021. To know more about the disease and India’s stand when it comes to fighting this disease, Team Banega Swasth India speaks with Dr Ajay Agarwal, Director Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Noida.
NDTV: How serious a health threat is Malaria?
Dr Ajay Agarwal:Malaria has always been a serious health threat around the world. Over the years, in India, however it has progressively declined. Now we don’t have so many incidents of Malaria as we used to have in past. But, still a lot of progress is needed.
NDTV: What are the effective preventive measures and treatment for malaria?
Dr Ajay Agarwal: We don’t have many medicines to treat Malaria, currently. To fight Malaria, we have to prevent the vector that spreads Malaria. We have to decrease the breeding of the mosquitoes by making use of repellants and adequate arrangements to cover the water bodies with kerosene so that the larva is not allowed to proliferate. For the people who are travelling to an endemic zone of Malaria, we have some tablets, which can be given weekly. There are various treatments we have for Malaria, the most common drug that we use for the treatment is Chloroquine.
NDTV: What are some of the lesser-known symptoms of malaria that one should watch out for?
Dr Ajay Agarwal:Malaria can cause high fever, chills, frequent loose motion, vomiting, to name a few. However, lesser-known symptoms include patients only experiencing severe pain, loose motions, recurrent vomiting and in some severe cases patients may experience liver, kidney failure and heart attacks.
NDTV: Talking about Malaria and Dengue – How does one differentiate between the two since both these diseases have identical symptoms?
Dr Ajay Agarwal:Malaria and Dengue both are vector borne diseases. Malaria is spread by the anopheles mosquito that usually bites in the night. Whereas Dengue is spread via Aedes mosquito that is a daytime mosquito. The symptoms of both the diseases vary. In Dengue, one usually gets very high and continuous fever associated sometimes with rashes, recurrent loose motions and vomiting. And, in Malaria, one gets intermittent fever. Platelet count falls more in Dengue than in Malaria. Sometimes the symptoms of both the diseases can be similar, then through blood test only one can distinguish between the diseases.
NDTV: Where are we on a vaccine for Malaria and how effective will vaccine be in eliminating Malaria?
Dr Ajay Agarwal: The search for Malaria vaccine has been going on for more than four decades. More than 30-40 vaccines have been tried out. But none were successful for various reasons. The latest on the block is R21 vaccine that is approved in Ghana, this vaccine is given in three doses and a year later, a booster dose is given. Here in India, Serum Institute is prepared for the vaccine production; however, we haven’t had any trials so far with R21 Vaccine in India. But, it is one of the most promising vaccines we have got.
NDTV: India has achieved a reduction of 83.34% in malaria morbidity and 92% in malaria mortality between the year 2000 and 2019, as per WHO, how far are we from eliminating the disease completely?
Dr Ajay Agarwal: India has achieved remarkable success in decreasing both the morbidity and mortality caused by Malaria. The target of the government is to eliminate Malaria by 2030. We are not very far from achieving this. The whole idea is that we should be able to decrease the incidences of Malaria to less than 1 per 1000 population in 24 states of India by 2024. I think it is a very realistic goal and can be achieved with the progress shown so far.
NDTV: What is the impact of climate change on vector borne diseases like malaria? What are some of the emerging trends?
Dr Ajay Agarwal: Climate change has really changed the pattern of the diseases all over the world. The rains that used to occur during the monsoons have stopped. Now, we have intermittent rains – sometimes we witness rain during the peak of summers, and sometimes in early winters or late winters. So, accumulation of water happens through the year. Because of climate change the disease has become an annual ritual, now it is prevalent through the year. It allows the vector to breed through the year.
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 – theLGBTQ 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 currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) 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, fightmalnutrition, 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 likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.