Odisha: Nipping the malaria bug in the bud
Budabirmaha: Salman Mallick has not heard of his more famous namesake. But when he talks about fighting malaria in his Odisha village, the 25-year-old – unknowingly – echoes the reel life s Salman much quoted words from a much watched film.
Odisha’s Salman is one of the many foot soldiers read Volunteer Health Practitioners (VHP) — placed by Tata Trusts in over 600 far-flung villages in the state, especially in the southern districts, to fight malaria.
“Once I commit to something…after that I don’t even listen to myself,” the actor famously said in the film Wanted.
Villager Salman, who has studied till the 10th, believes in those words, too. He is committed against malaria, he says.
He is one of the volunteers selected by village elders to spread awareness about the mosquito-borne disease.
“I had this natural inclination to help people, and was doing that from the very beginning in whatever little way I could. But the Tata Trusts and government provided me with the opportunity to help people in a structured way and get rid of the menace of malaria, says Salman, while overlooking the very first mass screening camp for Malaria and Malnutrition at his tiny village of Budabirmaha in Kandhamal district.
The area — with its hills, terraced paddy fields, thick forests and slow flowing streams — is picturesque, but with the watered fields, the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Plasmodium falciparum — the deadliest parasite that causes malaria — is rife in the region.
According to the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, Odisha contributed 41 per cent of India s malaria burden in 2016. About 28 per cent of malaria deaths in 2015 were in Odisha.
With neither accredited social health activists nor any health care centre at their disposal, many of the villagers fall prey to local quacks who charge them Rs 500-1000 per visit — an amount that few among the people, who earn barely Rs 100 a day, can afford.
Villager Nimanti Mallick recalls the case of her three- year-old daughter, who developed a fever some months ago.
“I took her to the traditional practitioner. He did her blood test, gave her a B-complex injection, put her on a saline drip. But she only deteriorated further,” she says.
Thanks to Salman, she adds, her child is well today.
“He intervened at the right time and educated us about malaria and its treatment, she says.
But it s a long row to hoe. And Tata Trusts has set itself a challenging target to meet.
“Tata Trusts, with support from the government, wants to reduce malarial deaths by 50 per cent in five years, and the incidence by 40 per cent. We are targeting cut-off villages, the tribal regions, and doing our best to provide them with early diagnosis and treatment round the year, says Jayeeta Chowdhury, senior programme officer (health), Tata Trusts.
The government of Odisha and Tata Trusts inked an MoU in March, 2016, to jointly work towards eliminating malaria.
The programme includes mass screening for malaria in villages of five selected blocks in the Rayagada, Kalahandi and Kandhamal districts of southern Odisha.
Mass screening is very important for early detection, and for afebrile (without fever) cases. If screened positive for malaria, the VHP gives the medicines provided by the government to the patient,” she said.
Close to over 30,000 people have already been screened so far in various mass screenings held in different villages.
Medicines or the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) kits are provided by the government of Odisha. The Tata Trusts distributes them to the remote villages.
Recently, the Odisha government also distributed Long Lasted Insecticidal Nets (LLIN) to villagers.
I heard there was something called a mosquito net. But it was only a month ago that I saw one when it was distributed to us,” octogenarian Nilson Mallick, the village leader, says.
“We are making full use of it, Nilson says, clinging to the net like it is his most priced possession.
The village head adds that the church bell is rung at eight every night to remind villagers to use their nets.
“That is when mosquitoes are most active,” he adds.
Tata Trusts have reached out to 1.2 lakh people in 625 villages. But there are loopholes that need to be fixed.
Villagers, for instance, still believe every fever translates into malaria.
Salman says he is working day in and out for his community and will fight malaria till the end. His only demand: a room where he can hold meetings, give medicines and respond to villagers’ queries on malaria.
Well, there is always room for improvement. Hope he gets it too.