Already short of hospital beds and nursing staff due to the virulence of the coronavirus epidemic, India fears that the health crisis will worsen with the annual monsoon and its chain of diseases.
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More than half a million people are infected each year in India by diseases favored by the rains, such as dengue and malaria, during the great monsoon which strikes the country of South Asia from June to September. Infections with symptoms almost identical to those of Covid-19: fever, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite …
“We are going to have to treat everyone as if they were Covid-19 patients,” Vidya Thakur of Rajawadi Public Hospital in Bombay told AFP. “All precautions must be taken”.
With more than three decades of doctor experience in an underfunded Indian public health system, Vidya Thakur is “used to dealing with heavy burdens”. But this year the monsoon arrives when the hospitals are already overwhelmed by the patients of the Covid-19.
“The Covid-19 has left us helpless,” she says, “the monsoon will make things even more complicated.”
India has so far recorded more than 9,500 deaths out of more than 332,000 confirmed cases. But the human toll continues to rise and epidemiologists estimate that the worst is yet to come in the nation of 1.3 billion inhabitants, which is emerging from more than two months of draconian confinement.
For the city of Delhi alone, local government expects more than half a million Covid-19 patients by the end of July, a nearly 20-fold increase in less than two months.
In the 580-bed hospital where Vidya Thakur works in Bombay, every square inch is already devoted to managing the pandemic. Beds clutter the corridors, storage rooms are converted into bedrooms and the staff are overworked.
At the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital in Bombay, even medical students were requisitioned. Many doctors and nurses have had to stay away because of the risks posed by their age or health.
Proliferation of mosquitoes
But caregivers are not alone in fighting exhaustion. The containment also led to a shortage of maintenance workers in Bombay, who could not do their jobs in the absence of transportation.
The fumigation carried out from March by the municipality to kill mosquitoes, the main vectors of diseases in monsoon weather, was thus two months behind schedule. Today’s teams have to work very hard.
In a slum in the megalopolis of 18 million inhabitants, agents equipped with masks and gloves spread smoke and evacuate stagnant water – a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes – from tarpaulins, storage cans and bottles.
“Many of our men do two rotations in a row, working 14 hours without interruption,” said Rajan Naringrekar, director of the municipal department responsible for insect control.
“We are worried (about getting the virus) but we have to do our job and take as many precautions as possible,” he says.
Ten years later, Mumtaz Kanojia still remembers with shivers the three weeks that malaria nailed her to bed. “My daughter and I were seriously ill, we had a fever, we couldn’t swallow anything. She even lost consciousness at one time, “said the resident of a small slum house.
But when the monsoon hits Bombay, coronavirus and other diseases are not the only concern of this 53-year-old woman. “Water flows everywhere (…) and mosquitoes follow,” she says.
She and her neighbors are forced to use tarpaulins to protect their roofs, although the puddles that form in their folds can become a swarm of mosquitoes: “without that, the roof leaks as soon as it rains heavily.”
“Each time we have to take care of it ourselves. No one from the government ever comes to help us. ”