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Revised strategy for Kala Azar eradication launched Dr Harsh Vardhan calls for social action akin to Pulse Polio mis

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, formally launched a revised strategy for total eradication of the dreaded disease Kala Azar in Patna today after a high level meeting attended by the Chief Minister of Bihar, Shri Jitan Ram Manjhi, the state’s health minister Shri Ram Dhani Singh, senior officials from the central Ministry of health & Family Welfare, representatives of WHO, IMA, state Health Mission and medical experts from the four affected states. Former Union Health Minister, Dr C.P. Thakur, was also present.

The new strategy involves carrying out active searches for people with symptoms of the disease in the 54 affected districts of the four states where the disease is known to strike –Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh. Thirty three districts in Bihar, eleven of West Bengal, four in Jharkhand and six districts of Eastern Uttar Pradesh of Bihar are affected by Kala-azar.

The Health Minister announced that early diagnosis and treatment using a single dose called Liposomal Amphoterecin B administered intravenously would help reduce the human reservoir of infection. World Health Organisation (WHO) has agreed to supply the drug free.

Dr Harsh Vardhan also unveiled Kala Azar Rapid Diagnosis kits developed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). As part of the new strategy, an insecticide, synthetic Pyrethroid, directed specifically at the sand fly, which is known vector source of Kala Azar, would also be supplied for spraying on the walls of homes in the endemic regions.

He said, “We have the drugs and the motivation, but what is most necessary is coordination. Since coming to office, I have concentrated on tying up the loose ends. I can say with confidence that like with polio and small box, Kala Azar too will become history by the end of 2015,” the Minister said after the meeting.

Kala Azar has also been declared a notifiable disease, which means all doctors, whether in government or private service, are henceforth required to alert the state health authorities whenever they encounter a patient with the disease’s symptoms.

The new strategy has been developed by a core group comprising experts and officials of the Health Ministry. The roadmap document focused on efforts at the national, state, district and sub-district levels.

Bihar accounts for 80 percent of the cases in India, the moot reason for the Health Minister’s choice of Patna for launching the new initiative. “The people of Bihar have seen our motivation in the Encephalitis immunisation programme. I believe that there can be no politics in health care, especially in the area of immunization. I have received full cooperation from the government of Bihar and hope to get more in the days to come,” he said.

He stressed the need for all stakeholders, including WHO and international agencies, to unite and pool resources to fight the dreaded disease whose relatively low incidence in recent years should not be a cause for complacency. Here he reiterated the that the entire population of the affected districts should be sensitised on the need to act as auxiliaries of the government’s health department in this important campaign.

“I wish to recall here the synergies which I mobilised at the time of launching the first pulse polio campaign in the country in 1994. We were then successful in rounding up even school children to search out mothers with small children and bring them to the camps for the all-important two drops. The Kala Azar programme needs similar help because quite a few patients skip the full course of 28 days which causes relapse. Also, we need social support for maintaining the efficiency of follow up treatment”, Dr Harsh Vardhan said.