8 Facts about Malaria as a widespread ancient disease in India

Friday, 30/09/2016

Malaria is generally regarded as the most pervasive disease finding its place in the history. It can be dated back to 4000 years ago; to the age of Neolithic dwellers to early Chinese and Greeks. Africa along with the poor sub-Saharan areas and the tropical regions of Asia and Amazon Basin, on the other hand, have always been the central and core sufferers of Malaria. Also, the picture of the world is at stake with nearly 3.2 billion people, i.e., half of the population of the world, living in Malaria-prone areas in 106 countries and territories.

India, a tropical country, is also at a high risk of Malaria. The following facts are meant to provide you with insights to enlighten you about the know-hows of this disease in the country.

1) Malaria — the “King of Diseases” as per the Indian Literature.
• The Vedic (3,500 to 2,800 years ago) scriptures of India contain many references to fevers akin to Malaria, referring to it as the “King of diseases.”
• The Atharva Veda specifically details the fact that fevers were most often accompanied by excessive rains (Mahavarsha) or came when there was a great deal of grass cover (Mujavanta).

2) Climatic conditions contribute to Malaria-prone India.
Who knew the climatic diversity of India apart from being an asset will also turn into its own turmoil, influencing the distribution of vectors and species of Malarial parasite? The variation in the amount of rainfall within different parts of the country, from tropical monsoons in South to moderate temperature in North, becomes the main cause of it.

3) Diverse geography of India causes different types of Malaria.
India’s expansive geography provides a suitable environment for Malaria parasite to flourish. This leads to numerous forms of Malaria itself, namely Forest/Tribal Malaria, Urban/Slum Malaria, Industrial Malaria and Plains Malaria.

4) The state of Malaria before colonisation.

Long before the British conquered India, Malaria was a serious economic and worrying issue that led to the devastation of many native lives.
• In 1852, a Malaria epidemic cleared out the whole village of Ula and was further spread across the Bhagirathi River to Hooghly district.
• The disease continued to devastate populations for many years in Burdwan.
• Significant outbreaks of Malaria had been reported during the construction of the Colaba causeway between 1821 and 1841 and also during the construction of several other famous docks.

5) The settlement of Railways in India facilitated Malaria.
• The city of Bombay (now Mumbai), which was the heart of the construction of railroads or bridges in India under the British government, became the breeding ground of Malaria causing mosquitoes.
• This happened due to the migrant labourers working in unhealthy conditions of railway embankments that were a breeding site for Malaria vectors.
• The labourers probably introduced the different strains of the parasite to the areas in which they worked.

6) Malaria control programmes under British rule in India.
• Some of the early Malaria control measures included removal of the breeding sites, use of chemicals such as Larvicides, Paris Green, and kerosene with the initiative of the formal Malaria control programmes under the British colonial rule.
• One of the first formal operations to control the disease was at the Mian Mir, near the city of Lahore (now in Pakistan).

7) The primitive use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) to fight Malaria in India.
• DDT was first used in India by the armed forces in 1944 to control Malaria and similar vector-borne diseases.
• In 1945, DDT was made available for civilian use in Bombay to control Malaria followed by the first civilian home spray with a 5% solution of DDT mixed in kerosene.
• In 1946, pilot schemes using DDT were established in several areas that included Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Assam. Mahatma Gandhi blessed this scheme.

8) National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) in India.
The effective use of DDT prompted the launch of National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) in India in 1953. It controlled the disease in both endemic and hyper-endemic areas with 125 control units.

Until the 21st century, many other control programmes were introduced to curb the widely spread malice of Malaria and other vector-borne diseases in India.