FEARS of dengue loom large while all keep struggling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. At least 101,354 dengue cases were officially recorded in an unprecedented outbreak in 2019, with 276 reportedly having died. In the dry season early this year, when dengue incidence should remain low, the Directorate General of Health Services recorded a rather high number of cases in March. Hospital records show that 334 people have so far been treated for dengue this year. While the number appears to be low, the Dhaka North City Corporation on Tuesday said that some 59.65 per cent houses in its jurisdiction area were potential grounds for Aedes mosquito breeding. The city authorities recently conducted a drive against Aedes mosquito and filed 168 cases against non-compliant house owners for endangering public health. It is welcome that the city authorities have taken initiatives to prevent a probable dengue outbreak but nationwide concerted effort should be in place to ensure that people are not doubly burdened with risks of both dengue and COVID-19.
Public health experts have on several occasions said that the fear for COVID-19 and treatment refusal could be a factor behind a lower number of reported dengue cases. There is, therefore, a need for the authorities to check its reporting mechanism to ensure that it is in no way making policy decisions based on a false impression. The fact that nearly 60 per cent of the houses in Dhaka’s north areas are potential breeding ground for Aedes mosquito challenges efforts of the city authorities in having taken adequate measures. No significant progress has been reported in cleaning canals because of the COVID-19 outbreak. But an outbreak can be in no way a reason for delay when the city authorities can get the work done by providing workers with personal protective equipment. A dengue outbreak while battling the COVID-19 outbreak will not only be economically burdensome, its toll on lives will have a far-reaching impact on society.
Public health system is barely managing to withstand the rush of COVID-19 patients. A dengue outbreak, if not prevented with immediate steps such as action against non-compliant house owners, canal and water-body cleaning drives and a timely spraying of insecticides to kill the larvae, could become a healthcare nightmare during the monsoon. The government must not play down the threat the way it did during the early days of the dengue outbreak in 2019, but it must deploy resources to have a clear scenario of the dengue menace and take policy decisions accordingly.
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