Education and community sensitization are the key to preventing dengue

Published: 15 November 2013 15:35 CET

By Gennike Mayers, IFRC

Since June 2013, six departments in Nicaragua have confirmed a 300 per cent increase in dengue cases. The departments of Chontales, Madriz, Chinandega, Tipitapa, Managua and León have the highest number of dengue cases and the communities most affected by the disease are those with the highest levels of poverty.

“In Nicaragua, the epidemiological emergency was declared not only for dengue, but also for leptospirosis and the flu,” says Dr Karla Garcia-Rivas, National Health Director of the Nicaraguan Red Cross.

The Ministry of Health leads the national hygiene promotion campaign encouraging people to ‘Live clean, live healthy, live nicely, live well’, and coordinates the emergency health response to dengue together with the Nicaraguan Red Cross and others in the health sector. Authorities have reported 14 deaths so far this year, with 57 additional severe cases and 4,000 people affected by the dengue virus.

In the department of Leon, Malpaisillo, staff and volunteers from the Red Cross work in collaboration with health authorities to educate the population. Silvio Pirado, a technician specializing in vector and rodent-borne diseases of the Malpaisillo Health Centre says: “Before they came, the cases of dengue were increasing due to the lack of human resources. Now that the Red Cross volunteers have come to give us support two days a week, we have been able to move forward with fumigation and removal of rubbish, and in this way be able to eliminate the Aedes Aegypti mosquito – responsible for dengue transmission – during its aquatic phase.”

However Red Cross support is not limited to human resources, it also includes educational materials, fuel for fumigation machines, and even vehicles used to transport technical teams to the municipalities along with volunteers. “It has been quality work even in the way the volunteers have offered presentations,” Pirado says. “The work in public outreach has been excellent.”

Alejandra Mendoza-Rivera says the knowledge she acquired through the programmes savedthe lives of her two children, Osmari, 2, and 12-year-old Francisco. “Both children had high fever so we went to the health centre because I did not know what it was but I was scared that it could be dengue,” she says. “They gave me the order for the exams and confirmed it.” Mendoza-Rivera knew the symptoms of dengue because she received home visits from the Nicaraguan Red Cross.

After this difficult experience, Mendoza-Rivera takes even more care in cleaning her home. “I put into practice everything I learned during the presentations. For example, keeping the water receptacles protected, cleaning my yard, putting covers on barrels, be careful and always clean,” she says.

Marcio Ocon Roa, from the Nicaraguan Red Cross says the operation has taken a number of different forms, “The volunteers have carried out 2,351 house visits, 1,477 houses have been fumigated, 3,972 breeding grounds have been eliminated and presentations have been given to 6,001 people,” he says. “To date, that represents 672 work hours from our volunteers, and that means savings for our country and the Ministry itself. These are activities that we conduct as volunteers, and with the humanitarian focus, which characterizes us. In this way we are fulfilling our mission as Red Cross, which is to protect the lives and health of human beings”.

This work is replicated across the entire country through the nationwide network of Nicaraguan Red Cross’s branches especially those in Somoto, Juigalpa, Santo Tomas, Chinandega and León, all involved in the fight against dengue. Dr Garcia-Rivas says the work being done is thanks to the openness of the communities towards the volunteers. “It is a recognition of the communities’ trust letting us enter their homes to educate them via our volunteers,” she says.

Mendoza-Rivera says: “For me it’s important that they are concerned about our health. That way you see the love and caring that they share with us. The Red Cross is always supporting us because this is already the third visit. I feel good when they visit.”