Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Malaria is the new threat to Mumbai. Last month, BMC recorded two malaria-COVID-19 co-infection deaths, of which one was from south Mumbai. A 27-year-old man from G-Northward (Dadar, Mahim, Dharavi) died due to the co-infection on August 3, 24 hours after getting admitted to a hospital. The other patient was a 40-year-old man from M-East (Govandi) ward, who died on August 4. As the city witnessed a rise in COVID-19 cases, it is also reporting an increase in malaria cases. In the last eight months, a total of 3,099 malaria cases have been reported across the city, with almost 70% of them in five wards of south Mumbai. Data from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) shows that the five wards in south Mumbai — G-South, E, F-South, G-North, and D — account for 2,157 of the total 3,099 malaria cases.
Civic officials have attributed the rise to the creation of breeding grounds at under-construction sites where work stands halted owing to the lockdown, and ongoing Metro railway work in the island city. Doctors said they are being cautious because symptoms of malaria such as fever, breathing difficulties and loss of appetite are indistinguishable from those of COVID-19. To rule out co-infection, all malaria patients have to additionally undergo the test for the novel coronavirus.
Dr Gautam Bhansali, consulting general physician at Bombay Hospital “I have seen two such cases where patients with malaria also tested positive for COVID-19. A co-infection can prove fatal for patients above 50 years of age with comorbid health issues. Cases of co-infection are still less in Mumbai.,”.
In January, only 172 malaria cases were reported, which increased to 1,163 in August — an almost seven-time surge. Of the five wards with the most malaria cases, G-south (Lower Parel, Worli, and Elphinstone) has reported the maximum number of cases, with 1,055 patients till August 31. E ward (Mumbai Central, Byculla, Kamathipura) recorded 478 malaria cases while the count in F-South (Parel) was 267 cases. G-North (Dadar, Mahim, and Dharavi), which has recorded the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases (8,748), reported 233 malaria cases. D ward (Grant Road) has 124 cases.
Dr Virendra Mohite, medical officer of G-North ward said the ward has witnessed an almost nine-time increase in malaria cases, from 10 cases in January, to 97 in August. “Due to the lockdown, all the migrant workers from the Metro construction sites have gone back. So, no one has cleaned the accumulated stagnant water which has turned into breeding grounds for mosquitoes,” he said.
Rajan Naringrekar, chief of BMC’s insecticide department explained that during monsoon, water gets inside the houses at BDD Chawl in G-South. As a large number of people have left the city due to the pandemic, the rainwater lies stagnant, thereby making it a breeding ground for mosquitoes. “We can’t forcefully enter anyone’s house for fumigation. As a result, people living in the surrounding areas are getting malaria,” he said.
Despite this, BMC didn’t fog the areas and clean the mosquito breeding grounds. As most people are staying inside due to the lockdown, many of them living in these congested areas are getting malaria, and the number will rise further. However, civil society members have criticized the civic body for delaying the monsoon-related preparations due to COVID-19. Every year, a large number of malaria cases are reported from slums like Dharavi and Govandi.