Estd. 2006
Border troops tame Malaria with face mask

Ramananda Roy Acharjee

Can we think mosquitoes can be deadlier than militants? Is it not hearing very funny? But it's true in the northeastern Tripura state. The Border Security Force remained panic stricken in the state not for unabated militancy and recurring bloodshed but Anopheles mosquito which carries the deadly malaria virus. In the Tripura-Mizoram frontier combating the attack of mosquitoes is much tougher than to fight militants from the last few years for Jawans (troops) of the Border Security Force (BSF) responsible to guard India's eastern frontier.

Just a year back Malaria had killed more BSF jawans in Tripura-Mizoram frontiers then militants. Malarial outbreak in remote border outposts of BSF had paralyzed the border manning more than once. Now BSF has not only been able to combat Malaria but it has rather tamed the killer disease by using innovative face mask.

Tripura is a Malaria prone zone and three out of its four districts have been declared as anti Malaria drug resistant. Every year hundreds of people are falling prey to Malaria in Tripura and the border guards posted in the frontiers are also among them. From 2006 to 2007 BSF have lost more jawans to Malaria then to militancy. Unable to tackle the menace of Malaria BSF sought to some innovative ways. One is being use of a face mask which the BSF jawans call 'Face-Net'. The Face Net has been an instance success as the number of malarial outbreak in BSF camps have reduced drastically and has the death toll. “ We were in serious troubles as most of our jawans were sick then this innovative idea clicked and we have been able to curb Malarial outbreaks in our border posts” BSF's deputy inspector general (DIG) of Tripura Frontier told reporters.

In 2006 - 11,652 jawans of BSF in Tripura-Mizoram frontier got affected of Malaria and out of them eight died. The next year - in 2007, 7226 men of BSF were under the Malaria radar. 10 jawans died of Malaria. In 2008, 5337 BSF boys were found carrying Malaria virus and only 2 died and that too while they were on leave. This turnaround was largely due to rampant use of face-net. This success of the BSF in combating Malaria has even prompted the Tripura government to take help from BSF is treating Malaria affected villages near the International border.

A study by the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) on the genetic characteristics of the inhabitants of northeast, known to be a Malaria prone zone which compelled researchers to think to develop a new drug for it. The state is being in the highest malaria prone zone in the country both Plasmodium falciparum (PF) and Plasmodium vivax (PV) types of these dreaded disease are abnormally prevalent in the rural and remote areas of the state. The border men are deployed to keep watch along the 856 km long International border that Tripura shares with Bangladesh. They remain out for more than 15 hours on an average for guarding the borders, bracing inhospitable terrains, poisonous snakes and other venomous insects, wild animals, besides all types of mosquitoes. It has resulted in quite a number of deaths among the BSF Jawans thousands of whom fall prey to this mosquito borne disease from the last few years.

BSF however has taken up the issue with utmost urgency and most sophisticated diagnostic kits are now used by the force to detect malaria. Advance medicines have also been supplied to all the Border Our Posts which are declared malaria dispensary by the state govt. at behest of BSF.  One paramedical staff has also been deployed in each BOP to attend on the suspected patients. Preventive kits like mosquito repellant creams and face mask have also been provided to the Jawans to protect them from this deadly disease. “It is mandatory for all those posted in the border to carry mosquito repellent creams, besides wearing face masks and gloves all the time. But thanks to the latest diagnostic kits, mosquito repellant creams and face mask with the help of these no casualty recorded duo to malaria in BSF last year in Tripura & even these efforts resulted in a visible decrease in malaria cases.” Singh Adds. Two helicopters were kept for carrying doctors and medical consignments to interior locations of Gandacherra and Kanchanpur sub-divisions from Agartala.

The innovative face mask - The 'face net' - that all the difference - is made of special material and is stitched all along the edges of the soldier's helmet, or jungle hat, and reaches down to below shoulder level. At its lower end, the net is suspended by rows of iron washers to increase the weight. The washers, or small iron rings, ensure that the veil-like face net stays in place close to the body, instead of hanging free. The soldiers complained of visibility problem due to the 'face-net,' then they planned to modify it and rectify the defects.

The success of Face-Net in protecting the BSF jawans of being stung by Anopheles mosquitoes shows that innovative ideas can make a difference when the stakes are odd. January 2009

The writer is a young and upcoming TV journalist based in Agartala, capital of the Northeastern state of Tripura.