Endosulfan TragedyEndosulfan is a pesticide developed in 1954. People extensively used it in farming with high consumption in the 1980s and 1990s. Later, it was highly toxic to human health and the environment. It poisoned entire populations of useful and necessary insects. The Endosulfan tragedy also caused many ailments. These ailments included skin irritations, destruction of nerve tissues and reproductive and developmental damage in human beings and animals.

For over 20 years, cashew plantations in Kasargod district in Kerala used Endosulfan as a pesticide. Tea plantations, paddy and fruit orchards in other areas of Kerala also used this pesticide administered via aerial spraying or manual pumps. Prone to long-range atmospheric transport, Endosulfan linked to serious health disorders in the citizens residing in these areas. In 2001, tests carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment in Padre village in Kasargod confirmed the deadly effects of the pesticide.

Cashew Plantations of Padre Village

In Kasargod’s Padre Village, residents reported that aerial spraying of Endosulfan in the cashew plantations began as early as 1976. A few years later, there were reports of calves being born with deformed limbs. Frogs, fishes, bee colonies, fireflies and jackals vanished from these areas. Many local children and a large number of people below the age of 25 were suffering from severe disorders. Families who lived along the Kodenkiri stream and its smaller tributaries endured the most. Protests and efforts mobilized by residents helped throw light on these troubles. However, it took many years for officials to fully address the dangers of the pesticide.

The Mango Orchards of Muthalamada Panchayat

Additionally, in Palakkad’s Muthalamada Panchayat, Endosulfan was used extensively in mango farms. Here too there were reports of animals giving birth to offspring with deformities, and residents witnessed the death of monkeys, reptiles and thousands of butterflies each day. A 2014 survey identified over 150 Endosulfan victims in Muthalamada, of which 40% suffer from chronic conditions. Even by May 2018, victims in Muthalamada who had been promised benefits, scientific studies and full-scale surveys to properly assess conditions in the area reported neglect.

The Ban of Endosulfan

The Kerala Government banned the use of Endosulfan in 2005. However, neighboring States still used them. In 2011, the seventh meeting of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP’s) placed a global ban on the manufacture and use of Endosulfan. In the same year, the Supreme Court of India banned the use, manufacture and distribution of the pesticide. A Supreme Court-appointed panel recommended phasing out the use of Endosulfan across a period of two years to avoid the high cost of incinerating.

Relief and Remediation Program

Furthermore, in 2017, the Supreme Court of India directed the Kerala Government to pay Rupees 500 Crores to over 5,000 victims of the Endosulfan tragedy. It also directed it to set up a medical facility to treat ailments resulting from exposure to Endosulfan. Relief and remediation plans focus on health, socio-economic welfare, rehabilitation and empowerment as well as a periodic assessment of environmental effects.

Overall, people favored Endosulfan for its low cost and effectiveness. Even after the ban of the pesticide, there were reports in 2013 that farms and plantations in Kerala still used Endosulfan. The tragic effects of the Endosulfan tragedy emphasize the importance of safeguarding the environment. It also emphasizes how strict regulations are crucial to deter the use of harmful pesticides.

– Amy George
Photo: Flickr

The Nipah Virus
The first documented outbreak of the Nipah virus (NiV) took place in a Malaysian village called Sungai Nipah in the year 1999. Since then, there have been outbreaks reported in Bangladesh, India and Singapore. Contact with infected animals such as pigs and fruit bats and consuming contaminated fruit lead to contracting the virus. Then, the virus is transmitted from person to person. It can also cause acute respiratory illness and encephalitis or be asymptomatic.

In Kozhikode city in the South Indian state of Kerala, an outbreak of the Nipah virus occurred in May 2018. The virus originated from infected fruit bats. In early May, an index patient was admitted to a local hospital. Within weeks, 18 cases were confirmed and 17 patients succumbed. By July 2018, the outbreak was contained.

Contact Tracing and Quarantine

Infected patients were confined and treated in isolation wards. Exhaustive contact tracing efforts helped identify over 2,000 individuals who may have come in contact with those who were infected. They were quarantined and periodically checked on throughout the maximum incubation period.

At the onset of the outbreak, the government issued health and travel advisories for the citizens and visitors to the affected areas. Members of the response team also visited houses to inform citizens about the required precautions. They encouraged people to wear masks since the virus was transmitted via droplets of body fluids. They were also advised to avoid consuming fruits due to the possibility of contamination.

Field Visits and Collaborative Efforts

Officials visited the homes and localities of the infected patients. They collected information from family members and inspected the surrounding areas to uncover the source of the virus. In a sealed well in the home of an infected patient, health officials discovered dead bats.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the early response to the outbreak as improvised. However, a centralized, efforts from top state government officials and health experts helped create an organized approach to managing and curbing the crisis. Their efforts collaborated with support and guidance from the Central Government as well. Furthermore, several heroes in the fight against the NiV outbreak were praised, including Lini Puthussery. Puthussery was a nurse to patients diagnosed with the virus, and she later caught the disease.

Quick Response Measures for Future Outbreaks

In anticipation of NiV outbreaks in the future, the Kerala government established a network that includes public and private hospitals to enable testing. These hospitals quickly identify index patients as well. In June 2019, this allowed a swift response to a possible outbreak, and there were no fatalities. There are plans to upgrade existing Virology Institutes in the State. Additionally, there are efforts toward overcoming challenges from previous outbreaks. One of the challenges is ensuring the sufficient stock of PPE equipment. These challenges also include proper management of bio-medical waste and decontamination of ambulances and treatment centers.

The experience garnered from the NiV outbreaks helped facilitate the Kerala Governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The State has adopted a people-centric approach to the coronavirus pandemic. It has also implemented a vigorous, centralized effort for contact tracing and quarantine and the sustenance of vulnerable groups.

There is neither a known vaccine nor a cure for the Nipah virus. The disease has an estimated fatality rate of 40% to 75%. However, Kerala’s success in containing the NiV outbreak in 2018 and possible outbreaks in the following year has established an admirable model for a global response to combat it.

Amy Olassa
Photo: Flickr