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Gorakhpur tragedy: Breeding fish in paddy fields could save children from Japanese encephalitis in UP
Every year between June and August, when the farmers of Uttar Pradesh go out to plant the paddy crop or Autumn Rice as it is known, along with it they sow the seeds of death. In the paddy fields lurks death for the poor infants of Uttar Pradesh and no amount of oxygen or bed capacity at hospitals can save them from the wrath of Japanese encephalitis.

In the muddy waters of the paddy fields breeds the culex mosquito which unlike the aedes aegypti or dengue mosquito has a love for muddy water and not clean water. Having a flying radius of around a kilometre, it reaches out to the nearest buffalo or pig which become amplifier hosts for the JE virus, and then bites a human being sleeping nearby. Unlike the aedes mosquito which spreads dengue and bites victims during daytime, culex mosquito remains active at nighttime.

The most vulnerable are children who sleep outside houses in the open without pesticide/mosquito repellent coated bed nets.

Agricultural experts suggest adopting bio-environmental methods to stop the breeding of mosquitoes to check the disease and reduce its incidence. However, a strong bias towards vegetarianism among farmers and government agencies is preventing the efforts to control Japanese encephalitis at the source level, the paddy fields where mosquitoes breed.

Agricultural and pisciculture experts say that breeding fish in paddy fields as it is done in Japan could put an end to the disease to a great extent as the fish would feed on the mosquito eggs and larvae.

These methods need to be actively studied and promoted by government agencies in the JE infested areas of Uttar Pradesh like Gorakhpur, Deoria and even as far off as Shahjehanpur.

There are so many issues to deal with here including reintroducing frogs in ponds and bringing back live ponds in the region. The farmers will only breed fish if there is demand for fish or if the government agencies are willing to buy and sell fish. It is high time they decided to do so as it could save thousands of infants from dying each year.

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