Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral disease that has become a major public health and economic challenge for India. The country reported a staggering 2.3 lakh dengue cases in 2022, with the highest number in West Bengal, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan. The disease has also claimed many lives and disrupted the productivity and livelihoods of millions of people.
What Causes Dengue And How Does It Spread?
Dengue is caused by four types of viruses that are transmitted by the bite of infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. These mosquitoes breed in stagnant water and are active during the day. They can be found in urban and semi-urban areas, especially near human dwellings.
Dengue symptoms include high fever, headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, rash, nausea, and vomiting. In some cases, dengue can lead to severe complications such as bleeding, shock, organ failure, and death. There is no specific treatment or vaccine for dengue, so prevention is the best option.
Why Is Dengue On The Rise In India?
Dengue has steadily increased in the past half-century due to factors such as global trade and travel, urbanization, population growth, and climate variability and change. These factors create conditions favorable for dengue vectors and viruses to proliferate.
According to a 2023 report published in The Lancet, between 1951-60 and 2012-21, the number of months suitable for Aedes aegypti dengue transmission in India increased by 1.69 percent every year to reach 5.6 months. This means that the environment has become increasingly conducive to dengue transmission, making it imperative that we take action to reverse this trend.
Moreover, when areas become flooded due to heavy rainfall or cyclones, the populations and territories of many vectors, especially mosquitoes, may initially disappear. However, as the floodwaters recede, they return to these areas, finding ideal breeding sites. This cyclical nature of dengue transmission highlights the importance of year-round vigilance and prevention efforts.
How Does Dengue Affect The Indian Economy?
Dengue imposes a significant economic burden on India, not only in terms of direct healthcare costs but also in terms of indirect costs such as productivity loss, absenteeism, disability, and mortality.
Direct healthcare costs include hospitalization, diagnostic tests, treatment, and transportation expenses. These costs can be substantial for affected individuals and their families, especially those without adequate health insurance or savings. Many people have to borrow money or sell their assets to pay for their medical bills, often plunging them deeper into poverty.
Indirect costs include the loss of income or wages due to illness or caring for infected family members. This affects not only the individuals directly affected but also their employers, businesses, and the nation’s overall economic output. According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), India lost an estimated $1.11 billion due to dengue in 2016.
The economic impact of dengue also extends to other sectors such as tourism, agriculture, education, and social welfare. Dengue outbreaks can deter tourists from visiting affected areas, affecting the revenue and employment opportunities of the tourism industry. Dengue can also affect the agricultural sector by reducing the labor force and crop yields. Dengue can also disrupt the education system by causing school absenteeism and affecting the learning outcomes of students. Dengue can also strain the social welfare system by increasing the demand for public health services and social protection schemes.
What Can Be Done To Prevent And Control Dengue In India?
Dengue is entirely man-made, which means that if humans have created this problem, it is incumbent upon us to solve it. As a civilization, we have inadvertently created environments conducive to mosquito breeding by storing water. As long as stagnant water persists, mosquitoes will continue to breed, leading to the painful consequences we face.
To prevent and control dengue in India, we need a comprehensive strategy that involves multiple stakeholders and interventions. Some of the possible solutions are:
- Public Awareness Campaigns: Launching comprehensive public awareness campaigns is pivotal. These campaigns should educate people on dengue prevention, the importance of eliminating mosquito breeding sites, and recognizing early symptoms. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should mandate the inclusion of a brief Dengue IEC (Information, Education, and Communication) clip before every movie.
- Vector Control – Innovative Approaches: Innovative devices for source reduction such as lethal biodegradable ovitraps (which attract female mosquitoes to lay eggs that are then killed by an insecticide) and larvivorous fish (which feed on mosquito larvae) are key interventions that can reduce mosquito populations and dengue transmission.
- Government Initiatives: Governments at all levels must invest in vector control programs, vaccine development, sanitation improvements, and sustainable urban planning. They should also implement effective surveillance, reporting, and response systems to monitor and contain dengue outbreaks.
- Civic Society Engagement: The CSR ecosystem is thriving, but it often focuses solely on numbers. CSR was conceived to foster innovation, which is currently falling short. It is time for civil society to rally behind the dengue cause and support innovative and impactful initiatives that can make a difference.
Dengue is a recurring nightmare for India, with a relentless surge in cases year after year. It is not only a health issue but also an economic issue that affects individuals, families, and the entire nation. The time for action is now.