Saving lives through community outreach in the fight against dengue

Publié: 19 novembre 2013 16:46 CET

By Gennike Mayers, IFRC

In response to the declaration of epidemiological emergency in July 2013, the Costa Rican Red Cross has launched a major campaign which is helping to fight dengue in communities and, crucially, in homes. Jose Obando is coordinating the project – a post funded through the disaster relief emergency fund of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – said the campaign is reaching deep into communities. “In week 37, we have registered 39,180 cases of dengue on a national level with 70 of these cases being severe. We have been able to sensitize 63,000 families via cleaning campaigns, fumigations, and home visits in areas that are difficult to access,” he said.

The Costa Rican Red Cross is working with the Ministries of Health and Education and other local institutions involved in the national efforts to eliminate dengue. But, according to Obando, success means getting the message into homes.  “We have been able to achieve community empowerment. This is our main objective,” he said. “The operation, to a great extent, is now being executed by the communities without needing us to tell them what to do. They are handling the response themselves.”

One of the communities is La Carpio, on the outskirts of the San Jose, the capital city. La Carpio was established in 1993 with the arrival of 1,000 families, most of them immigrants. Today, more than 5,000 families live in this community which has expanded without proper planning and services suitable for the population. Two contaminated rivers pass through this neighbourhood. There is also a sanitary landfill, electricity, cement and asphalt production plant, and plans to build a water treatment plant.

Kattia Cruz Espinoza, who has been a community leader in La Carpio for 19 years, said the community was surrounded by contamination. “This has affected the health of the community, some indirectly and others directly,” she said. “Here we have a lot of grass and this causes the spread of mosquitos. There is a lot of trash, empty receptacles full of water, so then this has multiplied the diseases affecting the community. We are worried someone might die.”

Volunteers from the Costa Rican Red Cross have been organizing home visits for the past three months and can visit up to 1,500 in a week. Espinoza said the perception of the Red Cross has evolved recently. “When the Red Cross comes to the community, the residents think something bad has happened, they wonder if there are people hurt. But when they go house to house giving presentations about dengue, explaining how to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds, it shows another side that a lot of people don’t know. Before they would come to the community for an emergency, but now they are here for prevention.”

Randy Rojas Flores, a member of the organization’s youth volunteers, leads a group of young people into La Carpio in order to raise awareness among the families. Their dynamism and dedication allows them to have a high level of community impact. “The group has 1,300 volunteers carrying out prevention activities and we share information with everyone from the youngest to the oldest,” he said.

The residents are happy to receive our visits and open their doors without hesitation. Lorena Martinez, a resident of La Carpio, said: “It’s a good thing that the Red Cross comes to the community to give us information. I try to clean my house so that there is no still water in order to avoid dengue. If one wants to be responsible, you have to take care of your life and the life of others.”

In another community, in the province of Limon, some 153 kilometres outside of San Jose, the Costa Rican Red Cross employs the same house to house visiting strategy but in different conditions.

Tatitana Marin, Costa Rican Red Cross volunteer and focal point for campaign in Cariari, explains the unusual methods necessary to reach the communities of Tortuguero and San Francisco. “We work in two high risk communities located between the ocean and a lake, where families have limited resources. The community can only be accessed via airlift, but this is very expensive for the members of the community,” she said. “However, access is still made possible via the river using small boats.”

Volunteers in Cariari must travel an hour by car, then an additional 90 minutes by boat and one hour on foot to reach the 139 families in San Francisco and the 98 living in Tortuguero.

In addition to home visits, poster campaigns and leaflets, the Red Cross also works with teachers who are able to pass on advice to students who then take this information home to their parents. In rural areas, the school operate as community centres hosting presentation in which the whole community is invited.

Maria Yolanda López, from San Francisco, participated in one of the presentations given at a school. She said: “I learned that it’s important to eliminate breeding grounds: tyres, cans, coconuts, everything. Dengue is not here and we don’t want it to come. But it does not help if I clean my house and my neighbour does not care.”