Resurgence of Malaria in Bombay (Mumbai) in the 1990s: A Historical Perspective

Parassitologia. 2000 Jun;42(1-2):135-48.

Abstract

Bombay has achieved extraordinary success in controlling its malaria problem for nearly six decades by relying primarily on legislative measures and non-insecticidal methods of mosquito abatement. In 1992, however, malaria reemerged in Bombay with a vengeance. During 1992-1997, the city witnessed a manifold increase in the number of malaria cases diagnosed and treated by the public health system. The large number of malaria patients treated by private practitioners was not recorded by the municipal malaria surveillance system during this period. In 1995, at the peak of the resurgence, public health officials of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay (MCGB) confirmed that 170 persons in the city had died due to malaria. The crisis was unprecedented in Bombay's modern public health history. In response to intense criticism from the media, the city's public health officials attributed the resurgence to the global phenomenon of mosquito-vector resistance to insecticides, and Plasmodium resistance to antimalarial chemoprophylaxis and treatment. Local scientists who investigated the problem offered no support to this explanation. So what might explain the resurgence? What factors led the problem to reach an epidemic level in a matter of two or three years? In addressing the above principal questions, this paper adopts a historical perspective and argues that in the resurgence of malaria in Bombay in the 1990s, there is an element of the 'presence of the past'. In many ways the present public health crisis in Bombay resembles the health scenario that characterized the city at the turn of the 19th century. It is possible to draw parallels between the early public health history of malaria control in Bombay, which was punctuated by events that followed the bubonic plague epidemic of 1896, and the present-day malaria epidemic punctuated by the threat of a plague epidemic in 1994. As such, the paper covers a long period, of almost 100 years. This time-depth is used to illustrate how malaria control programs in Bombay and in other parts of India have evolved through a combination of local historical forces and political expediencies in the context of technological developments. The boom in construction activities in Bombay following the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991, and the local politics affecting administrative practices of the MCGB, are discussed as crucial factors in the crystallization of the present-day malaria resurgence in Bombay. The paper concludes by arguing that malaria in urban India is a serious problem that cannot be neglected. In the case of Bombay, the solution to the crisis can be found, in part, by reexamining the historical and political issues that have determined the nature and magnitude of the problem over the last century.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DDT / history
  • Disease Outbreaks / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Insecticides / history
  • Malaria / epidemiology
  • Malaria / history*
  • Mosquito Control / history
  • Public Health / history
  • Urban Health / history

Substances

  • Insecticides
  • DDT