Dengue menace calls for coordinated actions in Dhaka

Published : Tuesday, 3 August, 2021 at 12:00 AM

Bangladesh is going through the worst phase of COVID-19 pandemic during the recent weeks. Along with that dengue has come out in severe form to make the situation a lot worse with the start of the monsoon season. Everyday new records are being set in terms of new dengue cases. Dengue along with COVID-19 is creating huge panic among the citizens. Hence, rather than ignoring the ferocity of the situation or pulling useless stunts, all relevant authority and the people should actively work to improve the situation.

Dengue infection has become a crisis in the country as 70 cases have been reported every day on average during July this year. The situation is causing concern among everyone as it comes amid the out-of-control surge in Covid-19 cases across the country. The dengue outbreak has put added pressure on the healthcare system of Bangladesh, as it is already battling the second wave of Covid-19. Most hospital beds and intensive care units (ICUs) are being filled by coronavirus patients, making it difficult to admit serious dengue patients to a facility.

Experts said dengue infections increase during the monsoon season, and like every year this year is no different. However, due to the Covid-19 surge this year, dengue has become more dangerous and complicated because dengue patients show symptoms similar to Covid-19, making their illnesses difficult to diagnose. Fever and diarrhea might lead people to think they are infected with coronavirus. Then when their condition deteriorates further, they go to the hospital and are found to be infected with dengue.

Almost all the dengue cases, about 96 per cent, have been recorded in Dhaka, which is home to about 17 million people while a handful of them are from outside Dhaka. This year, in Bangladesh all dengue patients are being infected with DEN-3, a variant of the dengue virus which can increase mortality risk, according to IEDCR. In previous years, Bangladesh witnessed outbreaks of DEN-1 and DEN-2 variants but this year DEN-3 is more prevalent.

Bangladesh witnessed its worst-ever dengue outbreak in 2019 when it recorded more than 100,000 cases and 179 deaths. There was a respite last year when 1,405 patients were diagnosed across the country, with seven killed according to the DGHS data. Doctors at government and private hospitals in Dhaka reported an increase in the inflow of dengue patients over the past few days, including children. Children manifesting dengue symptoms like fever, headache, pain in the eyes, body aches, bleeding from the mouth, swollen stomach, swellings and rash are visiting hospitals.

Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Atiqul Islam has urged city dwellers to clean their homes and surroundings every Saturday at 10am for 10 minutes and launched the campaign from the rooftop of his home on Saturday as he said the city corporation workers will not come to clean rooftops. He also showed where Aedes mosquito larvae can breed – places like corners, garage and yard. The mayor urged members of various clubs, societies, social organizations, school teachers and mosque imams to come forward and encourage everyone to wear masks and clean their own homes and yards.

Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh also expressed his focus on mobile court drives to kill mosquitoes while bringing the activities under a dynamic system by strengthening monitoring in wards. They have asked the city councillors to talk to the owners and owners’ associations of flats and apartments and the general secretaries of the associations to allow workers so that they can spread medicines.

Despite all these efforts, alarmingly, it can be very difficult to treat dengue along with COVID-19 infection. Sometimes the COVID-19 treatment requires to lower the platelet count while mostly dengue decreases the platelet count in human body. If treated without proper diagnosis, there remains grave danger to a patient, which can often cause deaths. Though low in chance, we cannot rule out this huge risk which may worsen the situation a lot.

Though our Dhaka city mayors have declared several programs, till now it seems that, they are pushing the responsibility of drive against dengue on the citizens despite the responsibility being majorly on the municipalities. Personnel from the city corporations are visiting different under construction sites and imposing fine on the site owners upon discovering Aedes mosquito breeding sites. They have even imposed penalty on residential building owners for similar cases. But the major sites of Aedes mosquito remain under the control of the city corporations.
There are many lakes, canals and wetlands which have no water flow and remain the greatest breeding sites of Aedes mosquitoes. Moreover, by the sides of these water sources, there are small pockets in between the trees, grasses, potholes which contains stagnant water during the monsoon and Aedes mosquitoes can easily breathe there.

Moreover, the schools, colleges, universities, many large organizations are closed for a long time. These cover a large area with open fields and can have several Aedes mosquito breeding zones and the city corporations need to spray anti-mosquito medicines regularly at those places. Additionally, we have huge slum areas in Dhaka city, which also needs to be covered with anti-mosquito drive by the city corporations immediately. The citizens are not going to destroy those breeding zones.

The citizens are not going to clean thousands of roads and other public spaces which often hold different-sized breeding zones of Aedes mosquitoes. Without focusing on these sources, only penalizing the building owners will not gain anything. Moreover, there are thousands of government under-construction sites, which apparently remain outside of the charges though declared to be brought under penalty. Harassing and penalizing the citizens can be the least effective measure in this fight against dengue.

The city corporations can never avoid their responsibility for the current dengue menace in Dhaka. Considering the threats of dengue alongside of COVID-19, the city mayors should have taken strong steps far before the monsoon but apparently, they did not do much. We, as citizens, did not see any strong drive from the mayors prior to the monsoon. Now, we can only focus on damage control.

Eliminating or controlling dengue requires a coordinated effort. If pesticide is sprayed at a ward, the mosquitoes will fly to the adjacent wards and will cause havoc there. Hence, it is important to do the same at every ward at the same time and this will require serious coordination. As the DNCC mayor has asked the citizens to clean their homes together on every Saturday at 10am for 10 minutes, the municipalities can also adopt similar measure.

At every ward of Dhaka city, the municipality workers should conduct an anti-dengue drive at a fixed time for a period of 15 days, average lifespan of an Aedes mosquito. The drive must be synchronized. If that can happen, we will be really able to control the menace of Aedes mosquito. The city corporations should also supply tools likes medicines and sprayers to different societies and building through the ward councillors, so that the citizens can participate at the anti-dengue drive at the same time at their homes.

Aedes mosquito can come from any part of the country. Moreover, dengue is not the only deadly mosquito-borne disease. We will face diseases like; chikungunya and malaria also. Decades ago, there was a dedicated department to control malaria which operated at every upazila of Bangladesh. They used to spray anti-mosquito medicines simultaneously throughout the country. We need such approach again. Alarmingly, dengue treatment and tests are available at Dhaka city but very limited outside Dhaka. Hence, we need nationwide campaign to tackle mosquito-borne diseases.

We are certain that, if dengue cannot be control during this COVID-19 pandemic period, we will face grave consequences. Even worse mutations of COVID-19 can happen with blend of dengue. Thousands of lives will be lost and it will be impossible to return to normal lives for years if that happens. Hence, strong, honest, effective, immediate and coordinated drive is required from the city corporations and other relevant authorities. We hope to see such actions very soon as the people of this city cannot take burden of dengue with an ongoing fight against COVID-19 anymore.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Chief Patron, Bangabandhu
Shishu Kishore Mela

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