Dengue outbreak still on, govt initiatives look relaxed


The dengue outbreak has not yet stopped. According to government data, some 1,101 newly infected patients were admitted to different hospitals across the country yesterday, Thursday.

On average, 250 patients are being hospitalised every day and it is three times more than the number was in October last year. But the government initiative to prevent dengue already looks relaxed.

This year, around 44,000 dengue-infected patients were hospitalised in different districts outside the capital. Of them, 66 people's death has been confirmed. People living outside Dhaka are being infected more than those of the capital for more than one and a half months. But the government has no visible initiative to control the aedes mosquito, responsible for the spread of dengue virus.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has talked about dengue and aedes mosquito in parliament for more than once. In several rallies in August and September, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) mayor Atiqul Islam said research on dengue and its prevention would be carried out throughout the year. Experts were supposed to be included in the task.

Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor Sayeed Khokon also said he would begin the prevention work with a long-term plan.

The two city corporations also announced to increase the budget to kill mosquitos. It is heard that the authorities have been framing a five-year plan. But no initiative is visible to tackle the dengue outbreak, the country has been seeing this year. The situation is the same elsewhere in the country.

Dengue season began to spread in Dhaka in July as the two Dhaka city corporations failed to take initiatives to control mosquitoes. The disease spread across the country when people started visiting their village homes to celebrate the Eid-ul-Azha in August. No one had the idea that dengue might spread across the country. Hence, the government had no preparation to fight against it.

“We thought there would be no dengue infection by October but it is there. It seems, there’ll be dengue patients in the country around the year,” health directorate DG professor Abul Kalam Azad told Prothom Alo on Thursday.

But the task to kill mosquitos has not slowed down, claimed officials of the two city corporations of Dhaka.

DNCC’s chief health officer brigadier general Md Momimur Rahman said, “We haven’t relaxed the task to control mosquito. Our work pace is still the same as before.”

He said they had finalised the draft of a five-year work plan, which will be submitted to the local government ministry very soon.

Local government ministry is responsible for controlling the mosquitoes outside Dhaka. But the ministry has not begun its task as of now.

On condition of anonymity, an official of local government division of the ministry told Prothom Alo that the local government minister has met World Health Organization (WHO) officials. "The government is thinking on working to control mosquitoes across the country all the year round. Currently, we’re planning about which of the ministries will be included in the task," he said.

The experts, however, fear the dengue outbreak will hit the country hard in the next season.

Virologist and former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Nazrul Islam told Prothom Alo, “The dengue outbreak is likely to be massive in the next year. Authorities of all the municipalities, upazilas and unions need to be active immediately to control mosquitoes.”

Mistakes and corruption abound

WHO adviser K Krishnamurthy prepared an action plan to control dengue and Chikungunya after the outbreak of Chikungunya in Dhaka in 2017.

The 22-page document ‘Midterm plan for controlling and preventing aedes-borne dengue and chikungunya in Bangladesh’ explained in detail about observing the disease and mosquitoes, managing the patient, coordinating insect management, reacting hurriedly during the outbreak of the disease, increasing efficiency, changing behaviour and communication, observation and assessment.

The plan was supposed to be implemented by 2019. But many concerned people, in reality, have not even seen the document, let alone its implementation.

The city corporations took more than one year to change the insecticide even after learning at the beginning of 2018 that they have been using ineffective insecticides to kill mosquitoes.

Public health experts and entomologists think people had to pay a heavy price for many mistakes and corruptions in the last two years.

Entomologist Manzur Chowdhury told Prothom Alo that the government officials are still adopting ineffective measures to control mosquitoes. "The officials and employees of DSCC and DNCC are more interested in using fogging machine to kill mosquitoes. The WHO experts insisted on using exterminating larvae but no one is paying heed to that," he added.

The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) started briefing journalists regularly about dengue since its outbreak. Director of disease control unit of DGHS, professor Sania Tahmina, used to brief journalists formally every day about the initiatives the government was taking to prevent dengue. But currently, the briefing has been stopped for unknown reasons.

Prothom Alo tried to contact Sania Tahmina several times on Thursday to know about her version but failed to do so.

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza