Rising dengue cases demand appropriate response
We are alarmed to learn that dengue cases are fast spreading across the country, making it a major public health concern amidst a still-unsubdued pandemic. According to a report by Prothom Alo, dengue cases have been detected in as many as 50 districts this year, Dhaka being the worst affected among them, followed by Cox's Bazar. According to data from the Health Directorate, more than 12,000 patients have so far been admitted to different hospitals for treatment. Among them, 45 have died. These numbers, however, do not reflect the actual dengue situation in the country as patients who were not admitted to hospitals have not been included in the list. Health experts fear that the actual numbers could be several times higher than the reported figures.
The health directorate conducts three mosquito surveys annually – pre-monsoon, monsoon-time and post-monsoon. We wonder what is even the point of doing these surveys if appropriate action based on their findings is not taken.
The question is, why couldn't the government yet take any effective measure to contain the spread of dengue despite it being a public health concern for more than two decades now? As the infection rate increased over the past few years, along with a rising death toll, it was expected that the government would take it seriously and put into place medium- and long-term plans to contain it. But despite its fatal effects year after year, the government's approach indicated no sense of urgency: it neither carried out regular anti-mosquito drives, nor conducted robust surveillance or awareness-raising programmes. Most importantly, it didn't implement the experts' advice to contain the spread.
Reportedly, in 2017 and 2019, two World Health Organization experts came to Bangladesh to direct the health ministry in this regard. One of them was a pathologist who formulated a research-based mid-term plan on how to control and prevent dengue and Chikungunya viruses in the country. He advised forming a rapid response team and also asked at least 12 ministries to join hands with the health ministry. Although the plan was supposed to be implemented by 2019, nothing has been done as of now.
So, this year, Aedes mosquito larvae have been found in 12 percent of the houses in the capital, according to a recent survey by the health directorate. Reportedly, the directorate conducts three mosquito surveys annually – pre-monsoon, monsoon-time and post-monsoon. We wonder what is even the point of doing these surveys if appropriate action based on their findings is not taken.
The government must realise the gravity and accumulated cost of a prolonged dengue situation and take immediate action to contain its spread. It must implement the suggestions made by the WHO experts and local specialists on various occasions. The government should also direct all hospitals and health complexes to remain prepared to provide necessary treatment to incoming dengue patients and monitor whether they comply with all directives. Equally importantly, it should regularly conduct mosquito repellent drives as well as awareness programmes across the country. There is no reason to downplay the danger that dengue poses to public health.