RAMESWARAM: This pilgrim town in the coastal district of Ramnathapuram is no longer a malaria hot spot.

In 2012, the town, with a population of roughly 46,000, reported more than 300 new malaria cases every month. Today, annual diagnosis rate has fallen to fewer than 200 new cases.

A report by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said population movement is a major factor responsible for the prevalence of malaria on the Rameswaram island. Frequent movement of fishermen from one place to another has helped in malaria transmission on the island and in costal mainland areas, the report noted.

Further, Rameswaram, being a pilgrim centre, attracts nearly 20 million visitors every year. According to local public health officials, some of these visitors were carrying the disease at the time they arrived here. Most pilgrims visit several towns before reaching the island. Along the way, they are often exposed to the disease-carrying mosquitoes, noted a health inspector at the Malaria Centre Rameswaram.

The ICMR research found evidence of possible introduction of the Chloroquine-resistant parasite to the island by pilgrims who hail from the north. Chloroquine is a medication used to treat malaria.

The district has not received rainfall for over a year. “This means less stagnant water, and thus, lesser space for mosquitoes to breed,” said Pandian Nageshwaran, who runs a medical shop adjacent to the Government Health Centre at Rameswaram.

However, officials at the Malaria Centre, brushing aside this claim, cited its efforts at providing health care to the affected. After 2012, when malaria cases in the district peaked, the Rameswaram health centre, employing over a dozen field inspectors, began a campaign to identify and treat the affected persons.

“Once someone tests positive for malaria, we would visit his/her home every day for the next 14 days” to ensure that he/she gets proper and timely medication, said P. Sathasivam, a health inspector.

Those who resisted medication were forcibly admitted to the health centre. Another measure was to destroy the mosquito eggs in the drainage water. Hundreds of larvae-eating fishes were released into the town’s drainage systems last year, said Dr Mahalakshmi, a general physician at the health centre