IFRC


Tackling the scourge of dengue

Published: 16 June 2014 9:01 CET

By Jim Catampongan

At the weekend, government representatives and health partners across ASEAN met in the Philippines to discuss approaches towards combatting the growing threat of dengue in Southeast Asia. All ASEAN countries (except Brunei) are among the top 30 most dengue endemic countries worldwide. Beyond ASEAN, dengue has spread from nine to over a hundred countries since 1960. In the 60’s there were 15,000 cases of dengue recorded per year; today there are 390 million cases annually and 40 per cent of the world’s population is at risk from the disease. 

In the Philippines alone, nearly 126,000 dengue cases were recorded in 2010. In 2013 this figure jumped to more than 166,000. The tragedy behind these numbers is that dengue is preventable and the hardship and suffering caused by the disease can be avoided.

The rise in dengue can be attributed to a variety of factors, including population growth, unplanned urbanization, lack of environmental sanitation, climate change and poor levels of awareness and education about the disease. Natural disasters also play a role. In the Philippines we have recently witnessed spikes in the disease in areas of Visayas due to the poor living conditions that people have to endure in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). 

Dengue remains largely a silent disaster. A combination of media neglect, lack of policy dialogue, limited investment in disease surveillance and long-term initiatives to tackle the disease is an indication that the disease continues to have a low-profile among policy-makers and donors. But the solution lies in everyone’s hands.

The mosquito that carries the dengue virus, aedes aegypti, primarily bites during the day and breeds mostly in man-made containers and pure water. Increased awareness and knowledge about dengue is vital, particularly around its causes, effects and implications. Preventative actions that should be taken at every level are equally important to help control the disease. 

Many National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, such as the Philippine Red Cross, are combatting dengue through their community based health programmes. This approach empowers volunteers and communities with information and skills that reduce health risks and contributes to cleaner environments where the mosquito cannot breed. Across Southeast Asia, mosquito control strategies must be tailored to the household and community levels.  

The poorest and most vulnerable often bear the brunt of the disease, living in areas where conditions are favourable for the mosquito to multiply. Limited access to healthcare and information exacerbate vulnerability. Treatment costs can be as much as three times a person’s average monthly income, not to mention the number of days lost in family productivity.  

The proportion of deaths among those who contract the disease is significant. About 2.5 per cent of those affected from dengue die. However, without proper preventive health and care services fatality rates could exceed 20 per cent. 

In turning up the volume on this silent disaster, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is advocating for a complete shift in approach from responding to isolated outbreaks to investing in long-term programming, including community-level initiatives that lead to sustainable behavioural change. 

Dengue prevention and control is a collective responsibility – governments, donors, civil society, communities and individuals all have a role to play. Through a stronger commitment, greater investment and improved collaboration, we can curb this disease. 

Jim Catampongan is the Emergency Health Coordinator for Asia Pacific with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Read more on the IFRC’s fight against dengue www.ifrc.org/dengue




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