Bhojpuri folk songs that have been entertaining people in Bihar for years will now be used to spread awareness about the kala azar disease, a recurring epidemic that takes hundreds of lives in the state each year and afflicts thousands of poor people.
The state government has roped in singer-actor Manoj Tiwari for the initiative.
"The state government has given the go ahead to use folk songs to create awareness about prevention of the deadly kala azar in rural areas," a health department official told IANS.
Over 23,000 kala azar cases were reported in 31 of Bihar's 38 districts in 2011. The disease, transmitted by the sand fly, has killed over three dozen people so far this year and claimed over 70 lives last year, officials said.
Over 750 people have died of kala azar in the past five years. The authorities in Bihar aim to eradicate the disease by 2015.
The official said the government has roped in singer-actor Tiwari - known for his Bhojpuri hits - for the initiative.
"Folk songs will be recorded in his voice soon. Tiwari will sing folk songs to help government agencies against kala azar," the official said.
"I will sing folk songs in Bhojpuri to create awareness on how to prevent the disease that is caused by poor living conditions and lack of sanitation," Tiwari said.
He said kala azar will be main theme of folk songs composed and sung by him.
Kala azar, medically called visceral leishmaniasis, is known as the poor man's disease because it affects the poorest.
The sand fly, which transmits the disease, multiplies in the cow dung that villagers use to plaster their shanties or as cow dung cakes for fuel. The flies survive on the sap in banana and bamboo groves and on decomposed cow dung heaps.
The disease is characterised by fever, weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver and can lead to cardiovascular complications, resulting in death. Experts say poor living standards and unhygienic conditions make members of the Mushahar community, who are Dalits, easy prey.
The worst kala azar-hit areas of Bihar are the northern districts of Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Sheohar and East and West Champaran. Around 90 percent of the world's kala azar cases are found in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sudan.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at email@example.com)