Political commitment remains vital to contain dengue spread

Published : Tuesday, 12 May, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Bangladesh, along with the whole world, is now fighting with the deadly pandemic named COVID-19. Already 239 people have died and 15,691 got infected from this deadly virus in our country. Throughout the world, over 4 million people got infected and 0.28 million people died from coronavirus. While the whole world is thinking about this deadly virus only, the greatest health crisis the world might ever encountered, another menace is approaching Bangladesh in a very fast pace named ‘Dengue’. This mosquito-borne disease is going to cause a lot of trouble for the citizens and we need to contain the spread of dengue in Bangladesh at any cost as the failure in this regard will come very costly. Hence, we need to think about the measures from right now.

The escalating dengue situation in Bangladesh has been emerging as a serious public health problem in terms of morbidity and mortality. Results of analysis of the cases in Bangladesh occurring during 2000-2017 indicated that 49.73 per cent of the dengue cases occurred during the monsoon season (May-August) and 49.22 per cent during the post-monsoon season (September-December). However, data also showed that, since 2014, these trends have been changing, and dengue cases have been reported during the pre-monsoon season. During 2015-2017, in the pre-monsoon season, the dengue cases were reported to be more than seven times higher compared to the previous 14 years.

At least 164 people died of Dengue fever across Bangladesh last year.The first case of mosquito-borne viral infection was reported in Bangladesh in 2000, and some 100 people died from the disease in 2000-2003.But the reported dengue cases reached 101,354 last year while the number of dengue fever patients was 10,148 in 2018 and 26 of them died.Figures now show, dengue fever – once a seasonal disease – has become a chronic one and has spread across the country, and experts are saying that lack of proper and timely steps to eliminate mosquitoes have led to this situation.Data collected so far showed the presence of Aedes mosquitoes was at a risky level in some areas even in January.

Entomologists say there are four important methods for controlling Aedes mosquitoes. Those are environmental management, biological control, use of insecticides and involving the citizens in the mosquito control programs.However, until now, attempts have been made in Dhaka to destroy mosquitoes only with insecticides. The other methods have not been used or included. According to experts, controlling Aedes mosquito is not possible if the four methods are not employed simultaneously.

Across the world, 7,25,000 people die of mosquito-borne diseases every year. This little insect has been the world’s deadliest animal for years.According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 20,000 people die of dengue fever throughout the world every year.

The Local Government and Rural Development Ministry on Wednesday decided to operate mobile courts at houses in Dhaka from May 11 onwards to check whether there is any safe breeding ground of aedes mosquitoes that transmit dengue.Instructions were passed to punish building owners under the Local Government (City Corporation) Act if larva of the mosquitos were found in peripheries of the residential buildings and under construction buildings.LGRD ministry has been holding a series of inter-mistrial meetings since last month to control mosquitos, but its decisions could not be implemented due to the public holiday declared by the government to slow COVID-19.

Conducting mobile court at residential and under construction buildings is not going to suffice as this is focused on micro level breeding ground of mosquitoes. There are many industrial complexes which have huge land area and contains logged water here and there. Many of these factories have ditches or waterbodies inside or outside their boundary. Many of the factories are closed for long time due to COVID-19 and many were closed even before that or operated in low scale for a long. Repeated rain can create serious waterlogging inside and surrounding these industries and can be a bulk breeding ground of Aedes mosquitoes.

Moreover, there are many ditches, ponds or other watery areas in many private properties creating scope for mosquito breeding. Hence, the scope of these mobile courts should not be limited to residential or under construction building. Rather rigorous drives should be conducted in industrial areas or complexes and private properties also to destroy the breeding grounds of Aedes before Eid at every district, upazila and even pourosova.

The city corporations are yet to proceed as per their plans to control mosquitos in Dhaka as the increased menace of the insect trigger fear of dengue among the city dwellers when the capital is upset with coronavirus infections.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently during a video conference with government officials of 64 districts asked the authorities concerned to take immediate steps to check mosquito breeding.

This year the scenario is going to be worse than we can anticipate. We are going to experience a deadly joint attack from dengue and COVID-19. Due to COVID-19, it is hard to avail medical treatments right now as many regular patients are being deprived of treatments. The doctors are not available properly reasonably due to lack of their safety. Many hospitals are returning patients despite the orders of the government to carry on with their services. On top of that, as both the diseases have some similar initial symptoms, we can anticipate that, many will be deprived of dengue treatment in suspicion of COVID-19. Hence, the casualties are going to be much more. Hence, it is important to contain the spread of dengue as the only measure to fight this menace. But maybe, we have already delayed.

We are already burdened with the heavy death toll from the COVID-19 and dengue can make our health system fail completely. During the British rule, there was a department for Malaria, which became ineffective during the course of time. Now, we all rely on the city corporations for destroying the sources of Aedes mosquitoes though there are many other stakeholders in this fight. But there are not much visible actions from the city corporations both inside and outside Dhaka.

The WASA, Water Development Board and the RAJUK are also few other stakeholders who need to act greatly to fight dengue. All these institutions have coverage of many government properties which hold many waterbodies like, diches, canals, ponds etc. and hence, they need to clean those immediately. But most importantly, the citizens need to participate in this fight as their lack of participation will never let us win over this menace.

We need to take few initiatives to contain the spread of dengue as soon as possible. Firstly, we need to create mass awareness among the people to destroy their adjacent Aedes mosquito breeding zones, which can be very much inside or alongside their residence. The councilors and chairmen of different areas throughout Bangladesh should actively work to raise this awareness. Fining the houseowners or the citizens by the mobile court cannot be a solution rather it can be a source of corruption on many instances.

The government should instruct the people’s representatives to send an urgent message to the people of their constituencies. We must remember that, people are mostly concerned about COVID-19 right now and it can accelerate the dengue spread. Hence, creating quick awareness is an urgency. Moreover, rigorous mass communication in electronic, print and social media is a must. We should consider all measures to alert the citizens without any further delay as their participation can take us to the half way mark.

It is true that, the city corporations are lacking workforce to destroy Aedes mosquito breeding zones throughout the country. But that should not be a problem right now. As we have seen, the government, under the charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has successfully conducted an indirect campaign, with the involvement of the public representatives and political leaders, to cut the crops during this COVID-19 scenario where social distancing and collecting workforce were grave issues, similar campaigns should be taken to fight dengue. Along with proper role of the relevant agencies, political commitment is of the greatest importance to eliminate dengue.

There are many people roaming around on the streets looking for work due to the COVID-19 scenario. These people are in the risk of food security as they depend on their daily earning to feed their family. As the government has declared many stimulus packages to contain the threats of COVID-19, a program can be taken to utilize this currently unemployed workforce in the fight against Aedes mosquito. The government should introduce food for work program for this workforce and should deploy them in spraying insecticides, cleaning logged water and the canals and riversides. This program should run throughout the country. It will serve multiple purposes in one go – eliminating dengue, keeping these workless people active and ensuring food security.

The WASA and Water Development Board with the aid of the city corporations should immediately clean the logged and blocked canals and need to ensure waterflow as Aedes mosquito cannot breed in flowing waters. Most of the canals in Dhaka city are clogged with all sorts of waste materials and by deploying additional workforce, the WASA must ensure that the water is flowing properly in these canals. Along with that, the drains alongside roads and households must be cleaned as soon as possible.

The city corporations must also ensure that, proper medicines are being used as insecticides which will definitely destroy Aedes mosquito rather than making them stronger. Moreover, entomologists should be employed at all city corporations in proper number to analyze this year’s breed of Aedes mosquito so that proper medicines can be used to eliminate those.
Moreover, mass awareness campaign should be run informing protective measures for the people. Along with that, tools to fight dengue like; Odomos should be made available in proper price. The government must ensure that, no ill group takes the benefit of this menace. On top of that, the health ministry should take all necessary steps right now to ensure treatment of dengue at the hospitals – both public and private before the scenario turns grave.

As we have already mentioned, we will require political commitment to win this fight against dengue this year. Without political commitment, whatever we say, we cannot run nationwide fight against dengue. Political people from every ward, union and villages should participate in this fight. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has successfully taken several steps to contain COVID-19 as well as to reduce the economic shock due to the current pandemic. She has already instructed to take necessary steps to contain the spread of dengue. By cleaning the breeding zones of Aedes, we should plant crops, even inside large industrial complexes with huge empty spaces. If required the government should form a taskforce with experts with constructive and optimistic nature and should immediately apply their recommendations. Considering the current COVID-19 scenario, we can hope, no stone will remain unturned to win this war against dengue menace.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)

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