Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 27 February 2011





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[Sunday Observer Extra]

Dengue may raise its ugly head again:

Natural mosquito predators destroyed

Dr. Prasad Kariyawasam

Thus access roads and public services get top priority. Here, unlike in other areas garbage visit on the dot. Any damaged public utility is replaced pronto and security around the area is at its best.

But a night here without a mosquito net or some other sort of mosquito repellent close at hand is a day spent in hell. The ‘soft whisperings’ and ‘piercing kisses’ of ‘blood thirsty’ mosquitoes will give you nothing short of a ‘memorable’ night! If this is the story of ‘affluent’ Manning Town, what will be the plight of the poorer sections of the city?

The Sunday Observer ventured out to find the behind-the-scene story of the CMC pest control unit.

We inquired from Dr. Prasad Kariyawasam, Chief Medical Officer of Health of the Colombo Municipal Council why the CMC fumigation truck this time around is making less frequent visits to housing schemes, where mosquitoes were breeding fast, he said his team has been overstretched.

The CMC fogging team in action

“My department should have a cadre of 1,190. At the moment we are running with just 640 people. According to the population of Colombo, I should have 100 Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) but at the moment I have only 32. I must have 55 overseers, but there are just eight. Two hundred labourers assigned to this unit have to shoulder the workload of 325 people.

With this overstretched situation, we are doing our maximum. Fumigation is carried out only in Colombo city. In the suburbs this is not happening at all. The dengue control or pest control activities in the Colombo suburbs is the responsibility of local bodies. The CMC is limited to the Colombo city.

However, I don’t believe fumigation is the answer to controlling mosquitoes. It is an absolute must that we keep the environment clean. We should have a sense of responsibility towards the environment.

Why is this mosquito menace so severe in the cities and its suburbs?

In the cities, people have destroyed natural mosquito predators. You don’t see dragonflies in the city. When we destroy natural habitats to make way for concrete jungles, the ecological damage we cause to the environment, help mosquitoes to breed to unimaginable proportions.

Do you see butterflies or fireflies in the cities now? This is the problem. We just don’t care... Greenery in the city is vanishing.

If you go to the suburbs, the mosquito menace is very severe than in the Colombo city. If you go to Kolonnawa in the night, there are sheets of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are a result of ecological damage humans cause to the environment. The influx of mosquitoes indicates that water is stagnant. People have destroyed natural drainage systems or drainage systems have been clogged.

Dragon fly - a natural predator

Dengue mosquito

The problem near the Manning town houses in Narahenpita, is that there is a canal with polluted water in close proximity. Before the housing complexes came up, there were individual houses in spacious and cleaner environment, there were no mosquito problems.

A case in point is the recent outbreak of Dengue in Slave Island last year, garbage collectors are reluctant to collect garbage because this area is a poverty stricken area. I had to get the Police, Air Force and the Army to come in and clean the place. This is the reason why there is a reduction in dengue cases in Colombo City this year. When we get the help of the forces, we get a good response from the people, but when CMC inspectors visit, these people protest and claim that they need not give any assistance and demand that it is the duty of the CMC to clean up the environment.

Can we eradicate mosquitoes? This problem is not so severe in the developing world?

No we cannot eradicate mosquitoes. There was a massive outbreak of Dengue in Singapore about two years ago. Singapore has one of the best anti Dengue programs there. No matter how serious the State programs are if there is no community participation and awareness, controlling mosquitoes in cities will always be a dream.

Even Cuba which produces the bacteria to destroy the Dengue larvae, mosquitoes have not been eradicated. But of course they have controlled it quite well. What they do is they send an army of people to inspect and destroy breeding grounds. This is the most effective mechanism. Maybe we should also adopt these tactics.

The anti Dengue campaign lacks experienced and pragmatic heads who engage in field work., he alleged.

Every year the Health Ministry approaches the pest control unit to carry out health projects, but we don’t get any funding from the UN or the WHO. We have to look after our own expenses.

To the Sunday Observer’s query as to why the strong media campaign and field work to control Dengue breeding grounds and field inspections are on the wane lately, he said.

CMC funds are used to projects like road development and other utility projects. What has happened is this kind of work has no calling because the work has no visibility, hence it is not so easy to get finances for such programs. Funding for Dengue campaigns by WHO, are channelled directly to the health ministry and we don’t benefit by them.

In addition ‘fogging’ and other mosquito control activities go slow this time of the year. By March and April every year, mosquitoes disappear. When it is May, Dengue raises its ugly head. People tend to go slow during this time. We must have a consistent program right throughout the year if we are to effectively control this menace.

However, I am helpless as we have manpower constraints. I used to get assistance from the NGOs and volunteer groups but it is very difficult to sustain their enthusiasm. This is not a once and for all issue. We have to do this every year.

Earlier we had programs with the participation of schools. But now schools are reluctant to take part in the Dengue campaign. I spoke to a few school principals, they were reluctant to permit children to participate in such projects because the parents are against it.

This is a really bad situation. When we were in school, we used to organise shramadana campaigns to clean-up and colourwash the school and classrooms. Today parents do all this. This is all about attitude.

I can’t understand why children should not take part in anti dengue campaigns. Children can gain a lot of knowledge on how to counter this deadly disease, which is a major health issue in the country. Field work will teach them how to keep their homes free of breeding grounds. This itself is an educational exercise for students.Last year we had very good response from schools, students as well as parents assisted us.

We cleaned up only the school premises, but this time around a perimeter of 150 yards schools should be cleaned, because Dengue mosquitoes can fly upto 150 yards. Despite the clean-up campaigns in schools, last year dengue among children rose to 40% to 44%.

What I suggest is that children should move out of school with CMC staff and try to spot breeding places in the neighbourhood. I have written to the provincial director seeking a directive to principals but he has not even replied to my letter to date. There is an allegation that the authorities are being bribed by mosquito coil traders?

I don’t have any dealings with them. One company came here with a pile of stickers carrying a Dengue warning and their trade logo. They sought our help to paste it on every household. That was many years back and I point blankly refused. I don’t use mosquito coils. It is an environment pollutant and I don’t think it will do you any good.

In my house we use mosquito nets. That is the safest way to have a good night’s sleep. The mosquito menace in the city has doubled. Nevertheless, the anti-dengue campaign seems to have taken a back seat.

Is there a tug-of-war between the different stakeholders, we cannot help but think. Before the deadly disease catches up again and snuffs out innocent lives. Officials should get their act together. This is our earnest hope.


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