By Impuri NgayawonÂ -Â World Vision India:
At 35,000 feet above sea level, staring down from the flight window, I type down the thoughts that keep my feet on the ground and humble me. There is a mixed feeling of success and failure. I escaped every possible malaria germ carrying mosquito during my entire stay in Dhalai district of Tripura. This was my success. The fact that I could not be of much help to those who were suffering from malaria is my failure. I am returning home with many names, faces, numbers and stories of people facing the malaria epidemic.
At my first stop, I met Ananta, an 8-year-old boy who was brought by his school teacher to the temporary health centre (formerly a CRPF godown), at Mungiakami village in the Khowai district. Ananta, still in his school uniform was lying on the floor, crying. The person lying next to him on the floor told us that Ananta’s mother had passed away and his father was yet to be informed of his condition, as his village was very remote and difficult to reach. Fear for Ananta’s safety engulfed my mind and I couldn’t help but wonder how many children like him must be there who are left unattended without any guardian and can easily fall prey to other threats like trafficking and assaults.
A few kilometres ahead I met Samkumar Reang, a very friendly 57-year-old man who runs a ration shop. Pointing at the PHC (Public Health centre) just opposite to his shop he said, “There is no malaria treatment available at the PHC. Only blood tests are conducted and anyone who tests positive is sent to district hospital which is around 13 kms from here.”
Our next stop was at Raipasa village where we stop at a small health centre hut run by a RMP (Rural health practitioner). There were around 10 patients in the small hut when we arrived. All of them look quite peaceful as if to tell you that they are used to the norms of malaria menace that occurs almost every year. As an outsider I was instructed to use preventive measures like putting on odomos cream and wear fully covered dress. Their quiet and innocent stare made me feel naked and defenceless.
Even pharmacies had become a hot spot for conducting blood test. One of the pharmacists showed us the test kits he had used. 30 blood tests were done on the day we visited him and in just a span of two months he had detected 35 PF (plasmodium falciparum) so far. Many ASHA (health workers) had also been doing blood test for the past months. Sorotden Molsom, an ASHA had done 580 malaria blood tests since January this year, and was able to detect 14 PF. When the need arises and situation gets out of hand, I thought even I may have to learn and do the blood tests, which according to them was quite an easy process.
“Due to bad weather the captain has announced to put on yourÂ seat belts,” came the announcement as a slight jerk shook my laptop. What if I didn’t have the seat belt or what if the seat belt wasn’t buckling up? A lady I met in Ganganagar had just returned from the PHC with medicines for herself. “I can’t leave my children at home to stay at the health camp for treatment. My husband has gone to stay at our jhum field.”
“Here is a woman whose seat belt isn’t working due to poverty and even if she heard what the doctor or health worker told her about malaria she is not in a position to compromise her children’s safety and needs,” I thought to myself. Many poor people are on seats without the belt.
On our visit to a school where some kids were staying in the school hostel, 3 out of 14 children tested positive for malaria. The more we reach out and conduct blood tests the more fear seems to be erupting —how many more are going to be affected by malaria today, tomorrow and for how long? I do not know.
In every flight we are given safety instruction despite many being frequent fliers. Again and again I have listened and have never felt offended. Yes! Prevention is always better than cure.
Timely action like DDT spray, mosquito nets, blood testing, etc. can save many lives. Awareness on different components that contributes to malaria outbreak like environmental, socio cultural and health systems can go a long way to combat such an epidemic.
When you are on a flight 35,000 feet high, there is only one person to trust — the pilot. People affected by malaria and those facing the threat are looking for the pilot who can drive them safe to good health. I finally disembarked home with a hope to find a channel for the names, faces, numbers and stories of people facing the malaria epidemic, that can bring help and healing to them.
This is an Indian reporting from 35,000 feet above sea level FOR the people caught in the malaria epidemic in Tripura.