The Dengue epidemic is spreading unabated. It is on
way to become the most dreadful killer, if not prevented in
The statistics are alarming. In 2008, there were only 6,500
cases of dengue and 88 deaths reported to health authorities.
That was considered an epidemic level then. In 2009 the number
of cases rose to 33,081, a five-fold or 500 percent increase.
The number of deaths jumped to 334, a 12 times rise.
This is a 1200 percent increase. Yet the alarm bells were not
heeded. Next came 2010 the current year. Compared to the figures
for 2010 the epidemic of 2008 pales into insignificance. During
the first six months of the year the number of reported dengue
cases is nearly 19,000. If uncontrolled the number of cases may
exceed the 2009 figure by as much as 5,000. Already there were
136 deaths, which is five times the 2008 figure.
In other words at least one death from dengue is reported
daily. Statistically one may argue it is nothing much,
especially as the country has witnessed much bigger death tolls
during the war. Yet even one death is too many for dengue can be
What we are witnessing is a national calamity. It is
especially so considering the fact that the majority of
casualties are children. Yet the enormity of the danger is not
being felt by the public. Public apathy is the major
contributory factor that prevents dengue eradication. Citizens
are not conscious of the need for a clean environment. It would
be too late when they realise it and blaming the medical
authorities is no consolation. The medical personnel are also at
risk as seen by the increasing number of doctors and other
health services personnel that have succumbed to the disease.
Though measures are being taken at the highest level there is
no community participation commensurate with the magnitude of
the danger. People’s representatives (MPs, Provincial
Councillors, members of local government bodies as well as civil
society leaders) have so far remained passive onlookers while
they are being increasingly called upon to engage in last rites
for more and more of their following.
Local government bodies bear a great responsibility to ensure
a clean environment in their areas. In fact, some of them have
become culprits by leaving un-cleared garbage and offering more
and more breeding places for mosquitoes such as unclosed drains
and pits by the roadside.
Nor could the Environment Ministry wash its hands off
pointing the finger at the health authorities for clean
environment is principally their concern.
As it is apparent from the above figures it is clear that
indifference and apathy of both the authorities and the public
has made the situation deteriorate to this calamitous
proportion. For the past three years there was talk and no
action. How many media reports would have been published on the
imminent purchase of Cuban BTI or the introduction of local BTI
to fight dengue? There were also modern fairy tales of training
Sri Lankan pilots to spray the BTI. Experts were brought down
from far away Cuba, according to reports. Up to now nothing
tangible has happened.
Now there are conflicting reports in the media. One says
local BTI would be bottled and sold (not sprayed) for the
population to purchase. With today’s cost of living many would
not consider purchasing BTI a priority. Another report says that
BTI would be sprayed in most affected areas. The authorities
have not corrected both reports leaving the citizen confused.
Even to purchase the BTI there is no information available as
how to get it and from where. The public should be made aware of
the availability of BTI and equipped with knowledge about its
application. One wonders whether the silence on these matters is
a result of powerful lobbying by mosquito repellent producing
firms that would stand to lose by eradicating dengue.
Further, fighting dengue needs a holistic and well
coordinated approach with the participation of all relevant
authorities and the public. BTI alone would be of no use if the
environment continues to get polluted. Other methods such as
fumigation too should be applied.
What is needed is a high profile national campaign with an
action program with concrete targets and deadlines. Perhaps some
extravagant expenses on tamashas could be diverted to this
It is time to begin action without waiting for the rains to
cease and claim success for the dip in dengue infections.