The unprecedented outbreak of dengue fever in Cape Verde has prompted the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to release 153,900 Swiss francs ( 152,100 US dollars/ 101,800 euro) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the Red Cross Society of Cape Verde in its response to the serious epidemic of dengue fever that has been affecting the country since September.
“There is a need to act quickly to limit the consequences of this outbreak, the first recorded in Cape Verde and the biggest outbreak ever registered in West Africa,” says Anders Naucler, the IFRC’s health coordinator for West and Central Africa currently in Praia, the capital city of the archipelago state off the coast of West Africa.
“Over the coming days we will mobilize and train more than 450 volunteers to provide information to local communities on how the disease is transmitted, refer sick patients to the local health centers and help with cleaning and disinfection of public places such as hospitals,” he adds.
The Red Cross Society of Cape Verde has been active since the first cases emerged in September, liaising closely with the ministry of Health and UN agencies. The outbreak intensified at the start of November. As of 12 November, some 13,700 cases (not all laboratory-tested) have been recorded. Between 700 and 800 new cases are being registered every day, with at least 4 of the 9 inhabited islands being infected and the majority of cases in and around the capital, Praia.
So far at least 6 people have died and 109 people have been diagnosed with dengue haemorrhagic fever, the most severe form of the disease which can be fatal if not properly treated. Hospitals in Praia have been overloaded to the extent that tents have been installed to provide additional space outdoors for the urgent treatment of patients.
“The epidemic affecting Cape Verde is unfortunately similar to the situation we are increasingly facing in developing countries. As we highlighted in our recent report “The epidemic divide”, epidemics are still a major public health problem that is not adequately addressed at the global level,”explains Dr Tammam Aloudat, the IFRC’s emergency health specialist. “The risk for seasonal cases of dengue recurring in a country such as Cape Verde which was not previously affected is now real and there is a need to act quickly to limit the consequences and to prevent the disease from further spreading, especially as some 55 new cases have now also been reported in Senegal,” he adds.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-born illness with similar symptoms to those of malaria. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female Aedes mosquitoes. The disease is mainly present in South East Asia and Latin America. However, it is now also affecting Africa. Even though its mortality rate of 18,000 people every year worldwide is relatively low, the nine million annual cases of dengue fever recorded is a real burden on communities that cannot continue their normal life, causing severe social and economical consequences, and straining over-stretched health services to their limits.