A united approach is vital for dengue prevention and control

Publié: 17 juin 2014 15:05 CET

By Kate Marshall, IFRC

Despite a decrease in the number of dengue cases so far this year, the official beginning of the rainy season has prompted Philippine Government officials to warn the public against complacency and urge greater community efforts to prevent and control the mosquito-borne disease.

The ASEAN Dengue Summit in Angeles City, Pampanga, last weekend as part of the annual ASEAN Dengue Day observation heard that as a group, the 10 member countries have the highest number of dengue cases in the Asia-Pacific, which accounts for 75 per cent of all infections worldwide.

As the world’s most widespread mosquito-borne disease, dengue has a significant economic and health consequences when factors like working days lost, deterrents to tourism and health costs are taken into account.

Speaking at the conference, Professor Donald Shepard of the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy at Brandeis University, US, said dengue outbreaks in Southeast Asia were responsible for economic losses of $950 million US dollars each year.  

In the Philippines, even though the actual number of cases in the first five months of this year has dropped more than 50 per cent compared with the same period in 2013 – from 48,686 cases to 23,867 cases – the onset of the rainy season has put health authorities on the alert for a steep rise in mosquito numbers.

Dengue is an incurable mosquito-borne disease caused by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The blood-feeding females lay their eggs in stagnant pools of water in and around rubbish, as well as puddles, plant pot containers and old tyres. This has prompted authorities in the Philippines to mount a campaign called The 4 o’clock habit: the ideal time for people to clean up their business premises and homes during the mosquito’s peak feeding period.  

The Philippine Red Cross has been involved in dengue prevention since the 1990s. Typhoon Ketsana in 2009 was a catalyst to link hygiene promotion and water and sanitation programmes. Current plans are to scale up prevention and protection strategies, especially in schools.

In a presentation to the conference, the Philippine Red Cross’ Health Services manager, Ryan Jay Jopia, said the organisation was able to call on a network of 100 chapters and 500,000 volunteers to lead its fight against dengue.

Anti-dengue measures include community clean-ups to rid the environment of rubbish and mosquito breeding sites, public awareness campaigns and health education in schools and households to teach people about the disease and how to combat it.

Jopia said marginal communities – particularly those outside the reach of public health and safety nets – usually suffer the worst from threats to health, including dengue fever, so it was essential that these communities be supported to appreciate these threats and develop measures to protect themselves.

He also stressed the role of volunteers in supporting health workers and local authorities in responding to dengue outbreaks by identifying people with symptoms of the disease and by referring suspected cases to the nearest health facilities.

Jim Catampongan, acting health coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Asia Pacific, said combating dengue required a collective effort on the part of governments, communities and individuals.

“Reducing the burden of dengue is not the responsibility of any one actor. It demands a strong response from governments, donors and civil society alike in prioritising dengue prevention and control and a shift from responding to isolated outbreaks to investing in long-term community initiatives that will lead to sustainable behaviour change,” he said.

“In the battle against dengue, knowledge is power. Dengue is spreading despite efforts to contain it. The disease has a catastrophic economic impact on individuals, families, communities and countries in the region.”

Even though a government-run clinical trial of about 3,500 children in Laguna and Cebu City has seen encouraging results, Catampongan cautioned that a proven vaccine is still years away.

“We are still a long way from a safe and cost-effective vaccine and until then there is still no specific treatment,” Catampongan said.

“Until then, we will continue to focus on the need for sustained community prevention and control through community health workers and volunteers as an integral part of community health, risk reduction or development programmes.”

Read more on the IFRC’s fight against dengue www.ifrc.org/dengue

Download the IFRC dengue report