Aedes mosquito-borne dengue appears to be on its course to wreak havoc in Bangladesh again this year as the viral infection rate is unusually high even in the early days of spring.
No year since 2008, when the Health Services started recording month-wise dengue infection data, saw so many cases in January and February like this year that already recorded 241 dengue cases with still two days of February to go.
The year 2019, which was marked by an unprecedented outbreak of the menace, even did not see such a high number of dengue cases in these two months.
A mosquito survey recently carried out by the Health Services has already found the presence of aedes mosquitos in nearly one hundred per cent areas of the capital even in the lean season of December.
‘The early situation signals a grave year ahead,’ said entomologist Khalilur Rahman of the Health Services.
‘But the efforts to be made by the city corporations in this regard will decide how the situation becomes eventually,’ he told New Age on Tuesday.
Dengue usually appears in Bangladesh in the post-monsoon period of September and October, though the infection in 2019 had started from summer (May).
According to the Health Services record, January and February usually saw no or few dengue infections.
In January and February after 2008, dengue cases were as follows: 13 in 2013, 22 in 2014, 16 in 2016, 150 in 2017, 33 in 2018 and 56 in 2019.
But this year the number of dengue patients in the two months already hit 241, with two more days to go for February to end.
Last year saw 1,01,354 dengue cases hospitalised and over 276 reported deaths from the disease.
The Health Services in March of the year had alerted the city corporations, mandated to look after the health care in the cities, that dengue was going to emerge as a public health threat.
Against this backdrop, the weaknesses in the country’s health system came in the spotlight in the year as the nation endured the worst dengue outbreak since 2000, the year the viral fever was first reported in Bangladesh.
Since May, the media had started abounding with news stories about and images of hospitals overrun with dengue patients.
There were also countless stories about private hospitals cashing in on the situation, ineffective mosquito killing medicines, untackled mosquito-breeding habitats, the spreading of the dengue menace all over the country and the denial of dengue death cases.
The immediate past Dhaka South City mayor, Sayeed Khokon, initially dubbed the dengue situation as a rumour.
The government later responded with ordering more beds at government hospitals, limiting patient-care charges, cancelling doctors’ leave, importing mosquito-killing medicines and dengue-test kits alongside conducting mosquito-killing drives.
At the early stage last year, dengue infections remained confined to the capital as had been the case since 2000. But the deadly viral fever began to spread outside the capital in the fourth week of July.
Within a week, the fever spread across the whole country and the severity in the outlying districts exceeded that in the capital.
‘It seems that the city corporations have failed to take lesson from last year,’ said Bangladesh Health Rights Movement chairman Rashid-e-Mahbub.
‘The evidence suggests that the city corporations must act without any further delay,’ he told New Age.
‘If they do not understand the urgency and stay idle, we will have to suffer like in the last year,’ said Rashid, a former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
He hastened to add that if the Covid-19 coronavirus could not be prevented from entering Bangladesh and the dengue situation went beyond control, the country would be in a disastrous situation.
The latest mosquito survey results, disclosed before officials of the city corporations by the Health Services on Sunday, showed that aedes mosquitos were found in 95 per cent of the places surveyed in the capital.
During the 10-day Health Services survey in the second half of December in the capital’s 98 wards, 130 adult aedes mosquitos were caught in 137 traps set across the surveyed area where investigators visited 1,000 households for other data.
The aedes larvae density, measured by the Breteau Index, was also found high in the surveyed areas.
The wards 1, 12, 16, 28 and 31 of the Dhaka North city and the wards 5, 6, 11, 17, 42, 70 and 37 of the South city had high densities of aedes larvae, according to the survey.
Water collected in plastic drums, plastic buckets, abandoned tyres and places of under-construction buildings were found to be frequented mostly by aedes.
Entomologist Khalilur emphasised that the city corporations would have to ensure the elimination of the breeding grounds of the mosquito species by March and April.
‘Or else, we are going to face a disastrous situation in the coming days,’ he warned.
He said that the city authorities should focus on eradicating the larvae by using larvicide and should eliminate the breeding grounds before the rains come.
After releasing the survey report, the Health Services said in a press release that it took elaborate programmes against aedes mosquitos and the dengue infection, including training of doctors, reviewing the dengue treatment guideline and the awareness campaign.
Health Services additional director general Sanya Tahmina said that the survey was part of the early alertness mechanism against dengue.
The ministries and departments concerned have to work in a coordinated way from now on, she added.
Immediate past south city mayor Sayeed Khokon on Tuesday urged the city dwellers to keep their houses and surroundings clean to prevent the dengue fever.
He was inaugurating a week-long crash programme in Kalabagan against mosquitos to tackle the dengue menace, just a couple of days before he left office for the newly elected mayor.
He said at the event that they took the highest measures to fight the mosquito menace.
He also said that the crash programme was part of the measures.
Sayeed said that conservancy and mosquito-control workers will make door-to-door visits in the mosquito-prone areas as declared by the Health Services in the next one week to destroy the aedes larvae and train people on how to eliminate those.
Legal action will be taken against the owners through magistrates if they fail to keep their houses and adjacent areas free from aedes larvae, he cautioned.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday asked the newly-elected mayors and councillors of the two Dhaka cities to pay special attention to checking mosquitos, particularly aedes, so that the insect cannot ‘eat up’ their votes.
‘There’s again the dengue problem. Now you’ll have to take measures to control the mosquito. You’ll have to pay attention to this. Or else, the mosquito will eat up your votes. You’ll surely see it. You’ll have to keep in mind that though the mosquito is small, it’s very powerful,’ she said.
Newly elected Dhaka south city mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh and Dhaka north city mayor Atiqul Islam took oath on Thursday.
The prime minister made the call at the oath-taking ceremony at her office.
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