Despite all the warnings and concern expressed by different quarters, including in these pages, dengue has broken all previous records in Bangladesh this year, and it is on course to kill 1000 people by the end of 2023. Eight more deaths reported on Thursday (Sept. 21) raised the number of fatalities from the mosquito-borne disease in Bangladesh to 875 this year. The World Health Organization has recently warned that diseases such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever caused by mosquito-borne viruses are spreading faster and further because of climate change.
The agency's alert and response director Abdi Mahamud told a news conference that such outbreaks were a "canary in the coal mine of the climate crisis." He said that a combination of factors including climate change and this year's El Nino warming weather pattern had contributed to severe dengue outbreaks in several areas, including in Bangladesh and South America. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Chad, have also recently reported outbreaks.
Last week Guatemala declared a national health emergency for its own dengue outbreak.
This reality, coupled with the current dengue surge in Bangladesh, emphasises the need for better preparedness and response mechanisms. Authorities should include groups like city corporations and local governments in the fight against dengue and researchers need to study how to prepare for future outbreaks.
Residents of Dhaka, particularly those living in risk-prone areas, have expressed dissatisfaction with the authorities' response to the crisis. They argue that more care should be taken in cleanliness and insecticide spraying to prevent dengue outbreaks. Their concerns highlight the need for more active local involvement in controlling the disease's spread.
The current situation in Bangladesh represents an unprecedented dengue outbreak, with both cases and fatalities hitting record highs. Two consecutive months - July and August - have broken the record for the worst ever month in terms of fatalities, and September now looks on course to take over. Entomologists and epidemiologists say rising temperatures and longer monsoon seasons are providing ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes. But we will do well to remember that in 2022, which was previously the worst year, the worst month wasn't until November (previously the worst month ever till July, and then August of this year), and deaths occurred in December as well.
The director of the state-run Mugda Medical College Hospital in Dhaka, Md Niatuzzaman, said earlier this month that Bangladesh is struggling to cope with the outbreak because of a lack of a "sustainable policy" and because many do not know how to treat it. Outside Dhaka and other big cities, medical professionals including nurses need better training in handling dengue cases, he said.
Despite that, we saw the Directorate General of Health Services issue an instruction this past week to all health officials outside the capital not to send any dengue patients to Dhaka for treatment.
As the nation grapples with this crisis, it is crucial to address healthcare struggles, enhance preparedness, and respond to public concerns unitedly. Only through coordinated efforts can the spread of the disease be controlled and future outbreaks prevented.
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