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Times of India
05 August 2010
Mumbai, India

The BMC is distributing health cards like this to construction workersThe BMC is distributing health cards like this to construction workers
Experts Say City Needs To Emulate Surat Model To Fight Disease
The malaria show is on in full swing. Politicians are trying to outdo each other with vitriolic quotes, as city authorities are busy either distributing health cards to construction site workers or pesticide–sprayed mosquito nets to slum–dwellers.

This year’s outbreak of malaria seems to have generated an animated response from the powers–that–be. A series of meetings are being held to control breeding of mosquitoes, figure ways to increase beds in public hospitals and distribute free medicines. The BMC has for the first time appointed an entomologist to study mosquitoes and their breeding sites.

But is this string of steps enough? Public health experts are not so sure. The reaction to malaria is knee–jerk and inadequate, they say. “Malaria will most certainly disappear after the rains. We will forget about it within a month,” says a senior doctor.

Old–timers say Mumbai has forgotten an important lesson: integrating public health solutions in its day–to–day affairs. When the pneumonic plague of 1994 swept across parts of Surat, the diamond city metamorphosed from a dumpyard into one of the cleanest cities of India. It has since strived to maintain hygiene.

According to Dr R D Potdar, former medical teacher at Nair Hospital who continues with social work in Bandra’s slums, “Experts in preventive social medicine or community medicine should be consulted while preparing solutions for solid or liquid waste man00000000.agement. The issue of vector control have to be integrated into civic affairs.”

He rues the fact that public health engineering as envisaged in the Bhor Committee report of 1945 has all but disappeared. “You won’t get a single expert to address public health engineering today,” Dr Potdar added.

The current situation, he says, is akin to the authorities providing an ambulance to control a situation arising out of people drowning after falling off a sharp cliff. “No one is thinking about constructing a wall that can save lives in the long term.”

A senior bureaucrat agrees the all–important lesson of community living has been forgotten. “The genesis of most public health problems lay with sanitation, water supply, housing and nutrition. If these issues are not tackled in a continued programme, we will have outbreaks of malaria, polio, what–haveyou. These issues cannot be addressed in a two–week programme,” says the official.
Additional commissioner (health) Manisha Mhaishkar says, “Central government experts have advised us to concentrate on construction workers who are most vulnerable to malaria and also carry malarial parasites.”

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