Dengue cases rise as govt fails to compile data

Published October 18, 2021
Patients rest on beds arranged inside a makeshift dengue ward in a hospital in Lahore on Sunday. — AFP
Patients rest on beds arranged inside a makeshift dengue ward in a hospital in Lahore on Sunday. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: While Pakistan gears up for the biggest measles rubella campaign in the global history at a time when number of active coronavirus cases has dropped to 26,237 across the country, no arrangement has been made to compile data of rapidly increasing cases of dengue and related mortalities at the national level.

Medical and public health experts have warned that number of critical dengue patients continued to increase at an alarming rate in Punjab where recently more than 500 people had tested positive for dengue and 18 patients died in a single day.

Dengue outbreak set new record in the year 2019 when around 50,000 cases of mosquito-borne disease were reported and at least 79 patients lost their lives. For over a decade, a proper arrangement had been in place at the national level to compile data of new cases and related deaths and release the figures to the media on a daily basis for public awareness.

However, this year there is no such arrangement as the government focus shifted to Covid-19.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), requesting anonymity, said that in the past Director General for Health Dr Rana Safdar used to compile data of the dengue and share it with all the provinces, stakeholders and with the media. “However, Dr Safdar has been dealing with Covid-19 this year. [It seems] there is not a single capable person in the ministry and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to gather, compile and update the data. Even Islamabad’s data is being compiled by the District Health Officer Dr Zaeem Zia,” the official disclosed to Dawn.

A senior officer at the NIH on the condition of anonymity said the Ministry of National Health Services should be asked about data compilation at national level. “We have competent people but such initiatives have to be led by the health ministry. Unfortunately, the ministry has not prioritised the issue.

“The ministry claims that it has been effectively and professionally dealing with the Covid-19 data, but we doubt if the ministry is capable to handle even that data without support of Inter-Services Public Relations,” he said.

Pakistan has experienced many outbreaks of dengue since 1994, with major outbreaks reported in 2005, 2011 and 2019. Around 6,000 cases of dengue with 52 deaths were reported from Karachi in 2005; over 21,000 cases with 350 deaths were reported from Lahore in 2011 and around 50,000 cases with 79 deaths were reported in 2019.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of NHS Sajid Shah expressed ignorance when asked who was dealing with dengue data at national level.

“I am sure that someone in the ministry or at NIH would be maintaining the data. Soon we will start sharing the data with the media just like we share the data of Covid-19,” the spokesman vowed.

On the Covid-19 front, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) data shows 720 new cases with 17 deaths in a single day. The official data, however, indicates that number of active cases of Covid-19, which was around 90,000 in August, has dropped to 26,237 with 2,046 patients hospitalised across the country on Oct 17.

Meanwhile, Pakistan gears up for an international measles rubella campaign.

According to a statement, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan chaired a National Inter-Agency Coordination Committee (NICC) meeting which was scheduled in line with a high-level ‘partners mission’ with members from WHO, Gavi, Unicef and other global health leading entities.

Last week, the International Measles Rubella Mission had visited Pakistan and held meetings with the federal and provincial officials related to the Expanded Programmes on Immunization (EPI), Polio Emergency Operation Centres, Unicef/WHO representatives and all other stakeholders.

The primary agenda of the visit was to incorporate global wisdom on MR campaign preparation and implementation to Pakistan.

Also, the international mission discussed adequate human resources, especially female vaccinators, brainstormed to identify bottlenecks and suggested directions for all stakeholders especially in terms of the measles campaign and Covid-19 vaccination at schools and madressahs and for out-of-school children.

Speaking at the NICC meeting, Dr Sultan said all the vaccination campaigns would get their due consideration in terms of implementation.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2021

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