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Bihar Under the Grip of Kala Azar

Thousands are dying in Bihar due to kala azar, a deadly parasitic disease transmitted by the tiny sand fly. And a former minister says he knows how to battle the scourge.

According to C.P. Thakur, a former central minister and chairman of the Kala Azar Task Force in Bihar, over 100,000 people, mostly the poor, are suffering from this disease and thousands have already died this year.

"They are dying in thousands and silently. It is unlike when dozens died due to dengue in Delhi, creating a flutter," Thakur told IANS here.

The sand fly that transmits the disease multiplies in the cow dung villagers use liberally to plaster their shanties or as cow dung cakes for fuel.

The flies survive on the sap in banana and bamboo groves and the decomposed cow dung heaps. They make their home in the straw thatches of houses.

The disease is characterised by fever, weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver and leads to cardiovascular complications resulting in death.

"A large number of patients in flood-prone north Bihar districts hardly report to health centres and die a silent death," said Thakur, an internationally reputed expert of kala azar.

He said the official figure of 30,000 kala azar cases is far from reality.

"Those are only the reported cases of kala azar. What about those cases that go unreported in rural areas? There was no figure available about them," Thakur said.

Early this year, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar set up the task force on kala azar headed by Thakur to suggest measures to eradicate the disease by 2010.

Thakur said that continued spraying of insecticides for at least five years in a phased manner and supervised administration of Amphotericin B could eliminate the disease.

"There is an urgent need for at least 100,000 vials of Amphotericin-B to control the rising incidence of kala azar. For a complete
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