By Patrick Fuller and Kate Marshall, IFRC
In recent months Red Cross health workers and community volunteers across Asia have been playing a vital role supporting health services in many countries across the region struggling to cope with major outbreaks of dengue fever. Thousands of people have been struck down by the sometimes lethal illness which is spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito. In the past six months Malaysia recorded over 80,000 recorded cases while India, Philippines, Viet Nam and Sri Lanka are all experiencing major spikes in the disease.
In Philippines, more than 40 people have died as alarmed health authorities report that the number of dengue cases is double that recorded last year. Efforts are focused on containing major outbreaks in three provinces surrounding the capital, Manila. Cavite province has declared a state of calamity, triggering national government aid to boost its dwindling medical resources. The other affected provinces reporting significant spikes in dengue this year are Bulacan, north east of the capital, and Pangasinan, in west central Luzon. Just this week Metro Manila joined the list, reporting a 90 per cent increase in dengue over last years infection rates.
Philippine Red Cross, which already stores more than 50 per cent of the country’s donated blood in its network of centres and blood banks, has stepped in by appealing to the public for much needed blood donations. In its most dangerous haemorrhagic form dengue causes internal bleeding, and seriously ill patients need transfusions of blood products such as platelets.
The Red Cross has sent two 100-bed hospital tents to Cavite to boost the province’s efforts to contain the outbreak. The province’s health facilities have been overwhelmed by almost 4,600 victims. The Red Cross hospital tents are equipped with blood supplies and other materials needed for treating the disease.
Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon has appealed to the public to volunteer and donate blood and support the public health campaign to prevent further outbreaks.
‘We urge the public to give blood to the Red Cross or to hospitals. As the disease runs its course it's literally a matter of life and death for dengue patients”, he said.
India has also seen a surge in dengue outbreaks across different parts of the country. In recent months an unprecedented 6,500 reported cases have been recorded in the capital Delhi. Since the crisis began in late August, the Indian Red Cross Blood Bank in Delhi has been the primary supplier of blood components required to treat patients admitted to hospital.
“We have organised more than 70 camps in the last 40 day to collect above 4,000 units of blood from voluntary blood donors”, explained Dr Vanshree Singh, Director of the Blood Bank. “We have also been involved in creating awareness about dengue amongst local communities through mass media by giving talks on radio and television and running messages in newspapers and magazines”.
Dengue is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics with 400 million people become infected with the disease annually; of this number, 75 per cent reside in the Asia Pacific region. The aedes aegypti mosquito can breed in small amounts of fresh water and the consequences of rapid urbanisation, unchecked development and changing temperatures associated with climate change, are some of the factors associated with the prolific increase in the disease.
In its 2014 report, ‘Dengue, turning up the volume on a silent disaster’, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) highlights how over 40 per cent of the world’s population is now at risk from dengue. Over the past 50 years, the disease has spread from nine to over one hundred countries, a 30-fold increase in global incidence, making it the most rapidly spreading vector-borne disease.
“Dengue is preventable and evidence shows it can be contained”, explains Xavier Castellanos, regional director of the IFRC in Asia Pacific. “The fight against dengue requires long term programmes that focus on prevention through building awareness and behaviour change at the community level. It also requires a shift in approach from responding to isolated outbreaks to investment in strategies that cover effective vector control, access to health services and early clinical management.”