Climate change takes malaria to the Hills

KOLKATA, 25 JAN: The days when doctors used to advise the sick a visit to the pristine hills may soon be over as trends indicate that higher altitudes would be more susceptible to diseases caused by an erratic weather pattern attributed to climate change.
The draft of the first of its kind compilation of various studies aimed at building strategies addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation in the state ~ State Action Plan for Climate Change ~ shows that with the crumbling health infrastructure, the state of affairs is set to grow sorrier.
According to the draft, cases of malaria and kala azar have gone up alarmingly in the state. Plasmodium vivax (Pv) and Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) are the main pathogens responsible for the malaria and the positivity rate of the latter has been found to be more than 25 per cent over the past three years and trends indicate a constant occurrence of the disease in this state. Purulia, Jalpaiguri, Kolkata, Murshidabad, West Midnapore are the highly-endemic zones of the disease. Though Kolkata has always been more prone to the malaria outbreak than the rest of the districts in the past three years, warming of the climate and the variable precipitation across space may offer newer sites of breeding of the vectors, pathogens, and bacteria indicating that malaria may shift to higher altitudes.
The incidence rate of enteric fever is less in comparison to the diarrhoeal disease but considering the large population the total number of cases seems to be a huge disease burden. The annual attack rate of the past three years in different districts of the state shows that the disease is endemic in Bankura, Darjeeling, Malda, East Midnapore and South Dinajpur. The attack rate of enteric fever seems to be increasing every year in Darjeeling. Of the water-borne diseases, cholera, Acute Diarrhoea Disease (ADD) and enteric fever are most prominently affected by the climate. Over the past three years, the annual incidence rate of acute diarrhoea in South Dinajpur, Cooch Behar and Malda is found around 50 per lakh population with an indication of persistence of the disease in this region.
Dengue seems to be spreading its claws silently in several other districts as detailed reports suggest that Kolkata, North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas still remain endemic. This indicated urbanisation may be an important parameter for transmission as well as occurrence of the disease.
Apart from these endemic zones, a close monitoring of the district report over the past three years reveals that there is a sharp rise in the number of cases, especially in the districts of Bankura and Hooghly in 2010, when compared with the past two years, indicating that this may be a result of global warming.
The report has been compiled with inputs from the state public health engineering department, School of Oceanographic Studies in Jadavpur University, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Disease, School of Tropical Medicine, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, research division of SSKM Hospital and National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research.

Soma Basu

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