Sunday, September 14, 2003

Water samples from cholera-prone regions fail quality test

By M. Dinesh Varma

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 13. The laboratory tests on water samples collected from the cholera-prone regions in the city have failed the quality test, raising concerns over a resurgence of the water-borne epidemic.

The outbreak of cholera this year has been largely confined to the Tiruvallam, Karumom and Nemom areas from where as many as 23 cases of confirmed cholera has been reported, so far. Last year, at least 38 cholera cases, including two deaths, had been reported from the coastal areas along the Poovar-Poonthura stretch along with sporadic cases from inland areas.

The cholera-affected areas in Tiruvallam spread across areas such as Punchakkari, Lankadweep, Kodithookkikkunnu, Thinavila colony and Karumam area in Nemom.

While five of eight water samples from Tiruvallam were termed `not satisfactory' in terms of bacteriological and chemical quality, the sample from the Nemom area had also failed the quality tests.

The tests conducted by the Public Health Laboratory had also recorded coliform content in water samples collected from the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) pump house as well as the main-line which supplies water to thickly-populated residential pockets in Tiruvallam, the stored water at a hotel in the area, and samples taken from the Vellayani Lake and the Karamana river.

Post-epidemic surveys found that there were only 2,020 latrines available for the population of 37,471 in the 8,620 households in Tiruvallam. The primary sources of water were the 20 public wells and around 1,306 private wells.

In the Nemom zone with a population of 36,968, out of the 7,364 houses, at least 5,534 houses lacked wells, 812 were without pipe connections and 362 houses lacked sanitary latrines.

Health officials point out that in spite of controlling the recent outbreak of cholera in these areas, the threat of transmission would continue to persist unless sanitary facilities and safe water were provided to these highly congested pockets.

The quality of well water is also highly suspect. At the pumphouse at Vellayani Lake, which serves as a source of tap water, there was no proper filtration. The chlorination at the treatment and distribution centre of the KWA at the Vandithadam was also found to be far from satisfactory.

Moreover, as people receive tap water only once or twice a week, they tend to store water. This, health officials say, increases the risk for water-borne diseases, as residents are not in the habit of boiling water before consuming it.

Health surveys have reported poor sanitary conditions and lack of access to potable water at places like Kodithookikkunnu and Thinavila settlement.

The situation is particularly alarming at the Lankadweep stretch where as many as 41 families had neither latrines nor wells. Streams coursing away from the lake nearby carry filthy water.

There is also lack of financial or manpower support for prevention and control of communicable diseases from local self-Governments in Tiruvallam and Nemom, which were earlier grama panchayats and subsequently upgraded as wards of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation.

Health officials, who conducted a situational analysis of the cholera outbreak at Tiruvallam, point out that the pathogen might have been introduced during the `Vavubali', when thousands thronged the temple in the vicinity.

The district health administration has submitted a set of proposals to improve the scenario in these vulnerable areas. The measures mooted are provision of sanitary latrines, supply of safe drinking water, adequate fund release from the local self-Government and other sources, strengthening inter-sectoral coordination and increasing facilities in health centres. A proposal to increasingly involve health staff of the city Corporation in epidemic control and surveillance activities is also under consideration.

Chalking out an effective waste disposal system, construction of walls around the wells, regular chlorination of water sources and awareness campaigns feature in the action-plan drawn up by the district health administration.

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