Time to declare a health emergency over dengue surge
In Bangladesh, often what's more problematic than a problem is the authorities' approach to that problem. This is once again the case as we face an unprecedented dengue surge. The numbers of dengue cases and deaths this year have already risen to 20,878 and 106, respectively, way ahead of the peak season, which is typically between August and October. This has triggered fears that this year will be far more catastrophic than 2019 – when 1,01,354 people were infected and 179 died – if appropriate action is not taken.
This is where the bigger problem lies: can the authorities, even after all the disturbing news coming from overwhelmed hospitals, address the situation in the manner that it deserves? Health officials, at a press conference on Sunday, claimed that the situation had not yet reached the level of a public health emergency. Experts, however, disagree, pointing to the fact that dengue has already spread to all but one district in the country. What more do the authorities need to change their approach to the crisis? Waiting for the situation to worsen further before declaring an emergency could prove disastrous.
Such a declaration means acknowledging the gravity of the situation, and will also send a proper signal to the people. It should, in effect, allow for better mobilisation of resources, central coordination, and a quick and unified response. So far, the government's approach has been characterised by sporadic and reactive measures. This is no longer enough, nor is just fogging or spraying. It doesn't also help that government initiatives usually stop when the disease subsides. The fact is, dengue is now a year-round threat – thanks to climate change, unplanned urbanisation, high population density, and a generally unhygienic environment in our cities. So we need to counter it with a year-round, comprehensive response. The absence of such a response, particularly during the November-March period, has allowed the Aedes population to grow disproportionately, setting the stage for the current crisis.
Going forward, the government must establish an integrated vector management system that includes round-the-year monitoring of Aedes mosquitoes and sentinel surveillance, thus enabling targeted and proactive actions. Unfortunately, the formulation of a national vector control policy has been delayed for far too long, despite frequent urgings by experts. The government must expedite the approval of the policy and ensure its proper implementation. Additionally, it must centralise and adequately record dengue patients across all hospitals and clinics so that we have a more accurate picture of the situation.
There is a lot more that needs to be done, but what's most crucial is that the government, city corporations, health authorities, and citizens all come together in the fight against dengue. It is time for proactive, sustained, and integrated efforts to prevent further spread of the disease and keep it contained in the future.