A usual day for Mukesh Bakshi, a rural medical assistant, and his team starts at 9am in the morning.
They enter the deep jungles of south Sukma, a severely Maoist-affected region of Chhattisgarh, with their elaborate medical kit for screening and treatment of malaria patients under a campaign started by the state government.
Under the Malaria Mukt Bastar Abhiyan, the state government is conducting community-based active screening and treatment in seven districts of Bastar division to reduce malaria parasite load.
Bakshi and his team have covered six Maoist-affected villages, where no one from the government other than health workers can enter, in the last 10 days under the campaign.
“We are actually working in the core area of Maoists… This is the Chintagufa area, which is dominated by Maoists but they have never interrupted our movement for work,” Bakshi said while speaking to HT.
“As we enter any village, we are stopped by some lower-rung cadres and once they are assured that we are health workers and working for the eradication of malaria, they let us go,” he added.
There are 6,607 people deployed in 2,804 teams to conduct the anti-malaria campaign in these seven Maoists-hit districts. The teams comprise Mitanin workers and trainers of the community health volunteer programme and Anganwadi workers.
Supervisors, medical officers, AYUSH doctors and rural medical assistants (RMAs) have also been also engaged for supervision at the local level.
These survey teams have to cross rivers and streams on boats and travel on foot—sometimes walking for around 10 to 15 kilometres—through forests and hilly areas to reach the targeted villages.
Tulsi Thakur, who covers the borders of Dantewada and Narayanpur that are not easily accessible, said villagers in deep jungles give easy entry as malaria is the biggest problem in the region and tribals want to get rid of it.
“I have to cross two rivers to reach my area and till now I have covered about 1,000 people under the campaign,” said Thakur.
According to state government data, 318 people have died in the Bastar division in the last 10 years due to malaria. Bijapur district with an annual parasite incidence of 44.31 and Sukma with 31.33 were among the worst-hit districts by malaria in the country in 2019.
The government says malaria is also the main cause behind anaemia and malnutrition in pregnant women and children in these areas.
“One of the various objectives of this screening is also to reduce IMR (infant mortality rate) and MMR (maternal mortality rate) in the area. Reduction of malaria prevalence in such areas would also lead to an improvement in the socio-economic condition of the tribal community as it would lead to less expenditure on morbidity and also would prevent wage loss happening due to constant morbidity,” Priyanka Shukla, the director of National Health Mission (NHM), said.
The first round of the Malaria Mukt Bastar Abhiyan was held from January 1 to February 23 this year during which door to door visits were made by health teams to around three lakh households.
“Usually there is a spike in cases during and immediately after monsoons. Therefore, we started the second phase now and have combined surveillance for Covid-19 along with it since our teams are going door to door anyway,” Niharika Barik Singh, the state’s health secretary, said.
The second round of the campaign is currently continuing in a phased manner in the seven districts of Bastar division. A total of 23.46 lakh population has been targeted for this round.
Till July 10, health teams made the door to door visits to 177,985 houses in which 17,509 people were found to have malaria. Out of the positive cases, 10,890 or 62.8% cases were asymptomatic.
“As compared to 2018 (same period), a 27% decline has been observed in malaria cases after the first round. With the second round ongoing and third round to be organised in November after the intensive implementation of the campaign, more promising results are expected in the days to come,” said NHM’s Shukla.
“This would also have a tremendous long term impact on health indicators especially maternal and child health,” she said adding that the second phase is ongoing and 65% of the target population still remains to be covered.
People in Bastar say they are expecting positive results for this campaign and are supporting the health workers engaged in Maoist-hit areas.
“The health workers are doing a tremendous job by giving us treatment and creating awareness about malaria. We people have also supported them and sometimes we accompany them to other deeper villages,” Dharmendra Sethiya, a resident of Chintagufa village, said.
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