Insights from a campaign to reduce mosquito-borne diseases in Mumbai

How has Mumbai fared in prevention of mosquito borne diseases? Why are grassroots interventions important for prevention?

In Mumbai, the city of dreams, rains bring relief from the intense heat, but also lead to sharp increase in mosquito prevalence. According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Mumbai accounted for 40% of the 11,404 cases of malaria reported in Maharashtra. In October of last year, the number of malaria and dengue cases in the city stood at 944 and 979 respectively. 

While the numbers are quite high, there has been a marked reduction from the figures in September that same year, when the malaria and dengue cases stood at 1313 and 1360 respectively. 

In response to this, several efforts by the BMC and local civic groups are underway to raise awareness and tackle malaria and dengue. One such campaign is ChooMacchar, a Mumbai wide campaign. Between April 2022 and March 2024, ChooMacchar trained 3193 volunteers to visit 1,61,193 households to educate people about mosquito breeding spots, preventative measures against mosquito borne diseases and more. 

Understanding mosquito breeding and disease prevention 

Mosquitoes are not just outdoor nuisance; they can thrive indoors if conditions are favourable. Common indoor breeding spots include stagnant water in flower pots, water coolers, tanks and even pet water bowls. Any stagnant water source, no matter how small, can become a breeding ground. Dark, humid environments with minimal disturbance provide ideal conditions for mosquitoes to lay their eggs and proliferate. 

Mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue and malaria, present distinct symptoms and require specific preventive measures to mitigate their spread. Dengue symptoms include high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, and a rash. 

Read more: Dengue mosquitoes: These are a few of their favourite things

To prevent dengue, it is essential to use mosquito repellents, wear long-sleeved clothing, keep doors and windows closed or screened, and remove stagnant water around your home.

Malaria symptoms consist of high fever, chills and sweating, headache, nausea and vomiting, and muscle pain. Preventive measures for malaria include sleeping under mosquito nets, using insect repellent, taking antimalarial medications while travelling to high-risk areas, and ensuring proper sanitation and drainage systems to avoid stagnant water. 

While dengue and malaria are well-known, other mosquito-borne diseases like Chikungunya, Zika virus, Japanese Encephalitis often go unnoticed. Raising awareness about these diseases is also crucial for comprehensive mosquito control efforts. Awareness of their symptoms and preventive practices is equally vital for reducing the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.

According to WHO reports, dengue cases are on the rise globally and climate change is a key reason. Due to rising temperatures and excessive rainfall, breeding of dengue mosquitoes and Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have increased. 

Common misconceptions about mosquito-borne diseases

Misconceptions about mosquito-borne diseases are widespread, often leading to false assumptions and overlooked dangers. One prevalent myth suggests that only dirty water fosters mosquito breeding, but the truth is, even clean stagnant water provides an ideal breeding ground. 

Another common misconception is that mosquito bites during the day are harmless. Yet, the Aedes mosquito, notorious for spreading dengue, is most active when the sun is up, catching many off guard during daylight hours. Furthermore, there’s a belief that only individuals with weakened immune systems are susceptible to these diseases. However, even healthy individuals can fall victim to severe forms of dengue and malaria. 

Waterlogging during rainy season is one of the common reasons for dengue outbreaks, as the stagnant waters serve as breeding ground for mosquitoes. Pic: Stephin Thomas

Among the plethora of myths, there’s the notion that dengue can be transmitted from person to person and that once you’ve had dengue, you’re immune for life. However, these notions are far from reality. 

Perhaps the most notorious myth is the belief that urban areas are immune to the threat of mosquito-borne diseases. In bustling metropolises like Mumbai, rapid urbanisation creates a perfect storm for mosquito proliferation. Construction sites, improper waste disposal, and stagnant water in residential areas provide fertile breeding grounds.

In addition, it is often believed that these diseases merely proliferate in informal settlements or slums, yet stagnant water and other favourable breeding conditions such as warm temperatures are common across different areas in the city.

As cities evolve at breakneck speed, these issues escalate, leading to a surge in disease frequency, spread, and complexity. Such urban landscapes are not immune but rather, fertile grounds for the unseen threat of mosquito-borne diseases to thrive and evolve.

BMC’s role in disease prevention

As mentioned before,  Mumbai constituted 40% of the total 11,404 malaria cases reported in the state of Maharashtra. Additionally, the city had one-third of the 11,600 dengue cases reported across the state.

The BMC plays a crucial role in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases. BMC leads efforts to combat mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue in Mumbai through regular fumigation drives, larvicidal treatments, public awareness campaigns, and surveillance systems. However, challenges such as resource limitations, bureaucratic hurdles, and the sheer scale of the problem often impede effective action. 

Additionally, Mumbai’s climate and geography, characterised by heavy monsoon rains and numerous water bodies, provide ideal conditions for mosquito proliferation. The prevention of these diseases requires a combination of personal hygiene practices and state intervention. Individuals must take responsibility for eliminating stagnant water, using mosquito nets and repellents, and maintaining clean surroundings.

Concurrently, the BMC must continue large-scale efforts in fumigation, larvicidal treatments, public education, and policy implementation.

By combining personal responsibility with robust state intervention, Mumbai can make significant strides in controlling mosquito-borne diseases and ensuring a healthier environment for its citizens.

Read more: Monsoon maladies on the rise, conditions worse than last year

Activating young minds through a city-wide campaign

Given the extent of the problem and the severity of the issues, it was imperative for the citizens to come together and participate in building a solution. This was the thought that gave rise to the ChooMacchar Campaign which is run by the non-profit organisation Civis and is supported by Godrej Consumer Products Limited. 

Our campaign fosters collaboration between the youth and local government bodies like BMC’s Insecticide Office and other stakeholders. Once established, this collaboration can extend beyond the duration of the campaign, leading to long term behavioural change through combined efforts by citizens and civic authorities. 

workshop for awareness about mosquito-borne diseases
Workshops create awareness about causes, symptoms and prevention of mosquito-borne diseases in Mumbai. Pic: ChooMacchar Campaign

Workshops are conducted by the ChooMacchar team with young citizens in schools and colleges. These sessions focus on giving an overview of mosquito-borne diseases, highlighting their causes, symptoms and prevention. The volunteers are then tasked with spreading awareness and bust myths regarding dengue and malaria in their communities. The objective of the ChooMacchar campaign is to decrease the cases of these diseases in the city.

Having observed the repercussions of these diseases in my city, Pune, I was enthusiastic about dedicating my time, efforts, and expertise to spreading awareness and creating a safe environment for Mumbaikars. I was drawn towards this campaign because of the approach adopted in understanding not only the immediate health concerns caused by vector-borne diseases but also addressing the underlying factors responsible for the spread of these diseases. 

Read more: Time to seriously implement already-existing solutions to make monsoons bearable, says a young citizen

As part of the campaign, I interacted with the volunteers from schools and colleges; building trust, understanding their concerns and finding the best possible solutions to their doubts. I liaise with colleges and conduct the ChooMacchar workshops with the students to train and onboard them as volunteers for the campaign.

Moreover, my role involves monitoring volunteer engagement through virtual weekly follow-ups, managing data on volunteers’ home visits, and collaborating and coordinating with stakeholders like colleges, schools and BMC officials to ensure effective campaign implementation.

During my time working here, I noticed behavioural changes among the groups I interacted with, such as regular disposal of stagnant water, identifying and spreading awareness in the breeding areas and reporting them to the local bodies are some of the most impactful outcomes of the ChooMacchar campaign. 

Need for grassroots work in disease prevention

It is evident that by establishing a grassroots strategy through community participation, health habits are sure to become firmly ingrained in daily life. Community engagement is crucial for developing preventive healthcare because it encourages a shared commitment to adopting and upholding healthy habits.

As we stand at the crossroads of awareness and impact, we must acknowledge that vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria still need our attention. The stories of individuals and communities adapting to healthier practices remind us that every small action contributes to a larger, disease-resistant environment. As I move forward, I carry the lessons learned and a renewed sense of purpose.

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