Dengue emergency

Published September 14, 2022

A DENGUE emergency is looming, and judging from the inertia on the authorities’ part, it is likely to get much worse. According to Federal Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, there has been at least a 50pc increase in the incidence of dengue all across the country. With hundreds of cases being reported each day, especially from Karachi — where hospitals have reportedly run out of space to accommodate dengue patients — the situation is dire. Nevertheless, there is still little sign the authorities are addressing the issue with the attention it deserves. According to Sindh government data, there have been around 3,300 cases of dengue in Karachi this year; of these 1,066 have been reported in September alone. Meanwhile, scores of cases are also surfacing daily in Rawalpindi and Lahore, while more than 200 patients on average are testing positive for dengue each day in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Alarming as these numbers are, they nevertheless grossly underrepresent the true scale of the growing epidemic. Since dengue fever is a viral infection, health experts estimate that at least 70pc of the patients do not need to be admitted to hospital and are treated through out-patient visits to doctors without undergoing lab test confirmation. In fact, some experts estimate that the number of patients being treated for dengue symptoms on any given day in Karachi nowadays is in the thousands.

Given the gravity of the situation, one wonders what is preventing the authorities from doing the bare minimum, which involves draining rainwater and carrying out repeated fumigation campaigns. In this regard, Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab’s tweet on Monday about a fumigation drive in 28 union councils in Karachi seems quite ironic. If this had been done earlier, perhaps the spread of the disease could have been curtailed to some extent. It is not as if the government is unaware of what is to be done since dengue outbreaks have for the past decade become a perennial problem that emerges after every monsoon season. However, the intensity of the rains this year and the disruption of health infrastructure caused by the floods portends a dengue outbreak many times worse than usual. The authorities need to stop dawdling and reapply the lessons learnt in 2011 from beating a tenacious dengue outbreak in Lahore. They must carry out repeated fumigation drives in all affected areas until all mosquitoes are eradicated, while ensuring that rainwater does not accumulate on the streets.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2022

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