THE outbreak of dengue across the country seems to have been particularly vicious this year. Around 50,000 cases have already been reported. This is almost double the number of people infected with the virus in the past decade. The last serious outbreak of dengue was recorded in 2011 when some 27,000 people fell ill. While health officials argue that the increase is partly due to a global surge in dengue cases in countries including Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines — where the number of people affected is said to be higher than in Pakistan — it still does not condone the health authorities’ lackadaisical approach to a serious challenge. They failed to put in place preventive measures, although they had been warned last May of such an outbreak. WHO has declared dengue as one of the top 10 global public health threats; surely, the national and provincial health authorities could have ensured active vigilance and preventive measures before matters got out of hand. The communication gap between provincial health departments has also contributed to the increase in the number of cases. Although this time there appears to be an improvement in reporting mechanisms regarding the number of people afflicted in the country, experts argue that there are still several weak links in the disease surveillance system which need to be ironed out. Hopefully, the onset of winter will slow down the breeding of the disease-carrying mosquitoes in most of the country, although there are fears that this might not be the case in Karachi where a milder winter may not prevent mosquito breeding.
Though an Emergency Operation Centre dedicated to controlling the spread of dengue fever has been set up in Islamabad, it is not yet clear whether it is following a comprehensive plan to control the spread of the illness. Perhaps the EOC can begin work by verifying reports of two different strains of the dengue virus affecting patients and then share this information with health practitioners, along with putting out guidelines for treatment.
Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2019