The dengue crisis
Dengue is on the
rise again. At least 85 persons have died so far this year in
Sri Lanka after getting infected with the dreaded mosquito-borne
disease and nearly 6,500 have been infected. A newspaper report
published yesterday said 50 percent of children under 12 in
Colombo have been infected. These figures far exceed the
equivalent numbers for 2008.
This is indeed an alarming situation. It is clear that Sri
Lanka is facing a dengue epidemic. Worldwide too, dengue infects
at least 50 million people every year - second only to malaria.
Even some developed countries have not been spared, leave alone
the Third World.
The Government has already initiated action on a rapid
mosquito breeding site eradication program in order to minimize
the spread of dengue. Yet, the Health Ministry alone cannot
handle this Herculean task. With 12 districts being identified
as high-risk areas, the provincial councils and local bodies
should extend their fullest cooperation towards this effort.
It is clear that neglect on the part of certain provincial
authorities to clear garbage dumps and mosquito breeding sites
has contributed to this status quo. They must act immediately to
address such concerns. The health authorities must provide funds
if the relevant local bodies are cash strapped.
Individual residents and owners of business premises too must
share the blame. Many households have neglected cleaning their
compounds, which have turned into ideal breeding sites not only
for the dengue mosquito, but also for mosquito vectors of
malaria and filaria. Action must be taken against those who fail
to remove mosquito breeding spots even after repeated warnings.
Public cooperation is essential to minimize, if not
eliminate, mosquito-borne diseases. The regular cleaning of
household compounds and throwing away water accumulating in
bottles, pots and used tyres are just two of the steps that can
be taken without any cost to minimize the risk of dengue.
There is speculation that Genetically Modified (GM)
mosquitoes which are resistant to fumigation and other tactics
have been introduced to urban areas in Sri Lanka by certain
parties with vested interests. This is indeed worth
investigating, as the health of the people is at stake. The
culprits behind any such move to ‘breed’ GM mosquitoes should be
exposed and punished.
In the meantime, the public should be vigilant. Those who
experience fever even for a day should undergo tests for dengue
at the nearest public hospital. Sufferers experience a range of
symptoms, from mild fever to incapacitating high fever with
severe headaches, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain
It is recommended that patients patronize Government
hospitals for these tests and treatment as private hospitals
usually do not provide good aftercare for dengue patients. Any
delay in seeking medication could prove to be fatal. Children
are especially vulnerable and it is up to parents to rush their
children having fever to the nearest medical facility.
The WHO and pharmaceutical companies are working on a dengue
vaccine, but production is not slated to begin at least until
2013, after human clinical trials. It has already been described
as the “biggest vaccine ever” considering the global spread of
the disease. Our universities and research institutes too must
be involved in research in this direction.
Nevertheless, one should not pin all hopes on a vaccine as it
is years away from regulatory approval. The best course of
action is preventing the disease. However, the increasingly
globalised nature of the world and our fast-paced lifestyle are
also factors for the rapid spread of diseases around the world.
Dengue, Chikungunya, HIV/AIDS, SARS, bird flu and swine flu
have challenged health authorities the world over. A disease
cannot be kept confined to a particular region or country
because travel is so cheap and commonplace.
This is why all countries must form a global alliance to
fight diseases now, more than ever. The Third World must also
initiate collective vaccine research programs, as some vaccines
manufactured by multinational drug companies are prohibitively
The gravest challenge to the world order in this century may
not be Global Warming. It could be disease. Overcrowded mega
cities are a recipe for disaster, health-wise. Although
inter-Governmental cooperation is essential to keep the likes of
dengue at bay, individuals have a responsibility to keep
themselves and their environment clean. That is the first step
to fighting disease, including dengue.