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Dealing with dengue


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Over 47,000 suspected cases of dengue have been reported in just the last five months, with the death toll rising to 115 from the 97 lives it claimed last year. This worrying rise in reported cases has hospitals and medical staff struggling to deal with the escalating demand for medical care. Meanwhile, experts claim that the situation could get far worse if it not addressed immediately as the monsoon season is upon us.

Sri Lanka has battled long and hard against this epidemic which now threatens to spiral out of control, according to some experts. The Government’s policies to combat its spread have traditionally been reactionary and inadequate. Even after the appointment of the Presidential Task Force on Dengue Prevention in 2010, after extreme public pressure, patient numbers did not see positive change. In fact, numbers rose to over 44,000 a couple of years later.

With its rapid urbanisation, the Western Province is usually the hardest hit with some schools being closed in the past and parents living in constant fear for their children. However, long-term, far-reaching regulations have yet to be brought in. The National Dengue Prevention Act was brought in to make creating dengue breeding grounds, even unknowingly, a punishable offence. However, its implementation has been sporadic and questionable over time.

In the Pakistani province of Sindh, the regional government took a hard stance against the disease. It introduced the Sindh Prevention and Control of Dengue Regulation 2013, which obliges everyone – from public officials to ordinary members of the public – to take responsibility for dengue. Failure to comply with the legislation can result in severe penalties. It’s a radical approach, driven by concern over nearly 5,000 cases of dengue reported in the province during 2013. However, is the threat of legal action enough to force people into action? Will fear of a fine make doctors report suspected dengue cases within an hour?

Sindh is not the only province to use legislation to fight dengue; Punjab Province takes its anti-dengue regulation so seriously that failure to comply with it is a non-bailable offence. It’s a trend that can be seen all over the world: in Venezuela, there are calls to fine hospitals that fail to report cases of dengue and Brazil has bred genetically modified mosquitoes to wipe out dengue. But the disease continues to thrive.

In Sri Lanka, these methods have failed to garner the right response. Like many knee-jerk laws and regulations implemented by governments in Sri Lanka, the intensity of its implementation quickly dies along with the public interest, until the next dengue cycle comes around.

Sri Lanka’s achievement in malaria is impressive given that about 80% of resources have to be supplied by local governments and it has to be maintained for decades at a time. Sri Lanka has already proved it can do the job with malaria so why not dengue?

Even with the incessant media coverage on the subject, the pressure exerted on the Government or in fact the public attention on the matter has been sadly deficient. With annual death tolls regularly outdoing that of previous years, it is time for all stakeholders to act fast to rid the country of this deadly epidemic.


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