Cometh monsoon and the media gets busy reporting dengue, chikungunya and malaria numbers. As all these pathogens are capable of churning out big numbers, they retain media attention during monsoon, but once winter sets in, infections decline and they slowly recede to back-pages.
Unfortunately, the headline-grabbing numbers of August-September are not half as dangerous as the numbers that are appearing in small print in mid-November now, because each case of a vector borne disease today indicates that a mosquito has drunk blood and hence will succeed in forming eggs.
This means that more and more mosquitoes will be available to pass through the lean period of winter. They will serve as seeds for the next population explosion that monsoon waters will inevitably bring. As the seed population gets larger each year, the scale of future epidemics is bound to grow exponentially.
So, looking at the lean season numbers today, it is clear that we are well on course of the doom’s day scenario that I have often described in this column. But, after years of writing on this subject, I have understood that I am dealing with tough citizens (and tougher administration) who are not going to get worried, so I have decided to make it a bit recreational.
As I have been successful in soothsaying that number of cases will go up each year and zika will arrive here, let me extend it further and offer a bet that plasmodium knowlesi will be visiting us in next two to three years.
In not too distant past, malaria-causing plasmodium, the greatest killer known to humanity operated mainly through four yamadutas, i.e. vivax, falciparum, malariae and ovale; but now we have a new entrant to this august list from Southeast Asia in form of knowlesi, a pathogen that has jumped from monkeys into man.
As Southeast Asia is thousands of kilometres away from us, you may not find knowlesi to be of great interest, but let me take you back by about 250 million years to unarguably the greatest event in the history of life on Earth to understand why it will be here and why it matters.
This event is referred to as the great dying, as it led to extinction of nearly 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species. Though there are a number of complex explanations for this catastrophe, the most interesting possibility is linked with pathogens.
When this great extinction took place, planet Earth was in a unique state whereby its land mass had converged to form the supercontinent of Pangaea and all its oceans had merged to form Panthalassa.
As this great unification must have led to removal of geographical barriers that isolate ecosystems, there is a great possibility that pathogens must have had a free run across land and sea, leading to various global epidemics that culled life-forms unprepared for unknown pathogens.
If we look at globally connected modern world, we have reconstructed a new form of Pangaea where a man can get infected with zika in Brazil in the morning and can be in India in the evening to start an epidemic.
So, dear little knowlesi is just a symbol of what is going to hit us in future and I want to use it to ask a question.
Do we have researchers working on such emerging pathogens?
My own tryst with the system tells me that state has not proactively supported research.
While my clamour for having a Center of Excellence on vector borne diseases in Ahmedabad has gone unheard since almost a decade, even basic research support from the state is found missing.
I strongly feel that our universities should be roped in and encouraged to work on this problem as it will not only help the cause but also improve academic environment.
Unfortunately, research has not been considered as an action linked to disease mitigation by the state, hence there is no provision made for aiding a university to work in this domain. So, it is highly unlikely that we are future-ready to face epidemics that are inevitably going to arrive here.
This is the time to wake up, or it may get too late.