Dengue outbreak

September 03, 2019

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ONCE again, Peshawar is infested with disease-carrying mosquitoes. In the past month alone, 1,200 cases of dengue have been confirmed in many rural parts of the district, with hospitals seeing patients on a daily basis. Following recent rainfall in the country and rising temperatures, which provide an ideal breeding ground for dengue larvae, experts had been warning of the potential for an outbreak. In order to mitigate a health catastrophe, officials had to ensure district-wide cleanliness and drain out stagnant rainwater from low lying areas. Peshawar is particularly vulnerable and struggles with containing the spread of dengue each summer. Several cases of the disease were detected in a Peshawar village back in July, when 15 people were admitted to hospital, complaining of bloody vomiting, headache and fever. However, all warning signs were ignored, and a lack of coordination between the various district departments to ensure cleanliness, water supply to residents who had resorted to storing it, and fumigation efforts, have led to the current situation. This is not the first time the city has witnessed such a health disaster. In 2017, over 50 deaths were recorded after thousands of residents were admitted to hospital, and hundreds were diagnosed with the illness. Peshawar’s Khyber Teaching Hospital alone recorded 831 patients. Many of the areas that have reported dengue cases this time around are the same that were struggling with the outbreak two years ago.

Back then, KP reached out to the Punjab government to help it control the crisis. Health officials from Punjab informed physicians how to take care of ailing patients and stop the spread of the disease.The Punjab government, under then chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, had effectively combated its own dengue epidemic in 2011, aided with the knowledge and expertise of Sri Lankan medical teams, and enacted new laws to prevent such a health emergency from recurring. Indeed, such interprovincial initiatives are the need of the hour, but politics and pride often get in the way of public health concerns. For instance, when Sindh was struggling with a similar outbreak in 2015, it refused assistance and knowledge from the centre. Now, 235 cases of dengue have been reported in Karachi, which bizarrely seem to have largely affected Chinese nationals working at a nuclear plant site near Hawke’s Bay beach. Perhaps it is time for both KP and Sindh to work at ‘Punjab speed’, at least in the campaign against dengue.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2019