In 1996, Delhi saw a major outbreak of dengue haemorrhagic fever, the worst any city had seen for the disease since Calcutta in 1963. Roughly ten thousand people fell sick, and more than six hundred died. That year, the Delhi municipal corporation set up a unit called Domestic Breeding Checkers to perform important tasks needed to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and malaria. Today, Delhi has 3,500 DBCs.
“Our work begins in February every year when we go door-to-door to look for stagnant water in people’s houses and on terraces,” Debanand Sharma, who has been a DBC since the cadre’s inception, told me. “We make them aware of infectious diseases and the way they spread. Whenever needed, we also distribute temephos granules which helps in killing larvae of mosquitoes to prevent breeding.”
This year, those activities started in late April, delayed by roughly two-and-a-half months. “We have been on COVID-19 duty since February,” Sharma, who is also the president of the Anti-Malaria Ekta Karamchari Union of Delhi, told me. “Our task was shifted to sanitising all premises in Delhi.” He said that the DBCs are worried about the possible spread of other infections as their activities have been delayed. “The government has asked us to perform both the duties now: to sanitise for COVID-19 as well as do our regular door-to-door checking for other infections,” Sharma said. “But this is not practically possible.” Besides the increased workload, there are other concerns as well. “People are not welcoming us in their houses as they are scared of coronavirus,” he said. “We cannot carry out our job.”