Political will necessary to fight dengue epidemic, experts sayLocal level representatives’ absence in a crucial meeting organised to discuss ways to contain the disease shows apathy at the political level
The Epidemiology and Disease Control Division on Wednesday held an orientation programme for elected representatives of local governments of Kathmandu Valley. With the continuing rise in dengue cases, the programme’s purpose was to impress upon the local entities the importance of their role in the campaign against the epidemic and urge them to act in a collaborative and decisive manner to contain the disease.
Experts from the World Health Organization were also invited to share experiences of neighbouring India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries of South-East Asia region that successfully contained the scourge of dengue and the instrumental role the local governments played.
“But none of the elected leaders came to the meeting,” Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at the division told the Post. “Deputy mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City had come but left right after the programme started.”
“We had informed the representatives of local governments that this meeting was for them, but only a few of them showed up, and they were junior level officials,” said Lal.
In organising the meeting, the division, as the coordinator, was seeking to gain the political commitment from the elected representatives to execute a concerted series of actions needed to fight the dengue spread.
Experts present at the event said that continuous search and destroy drives, sustained public awareness campaigns and timely testing, and referral and treatment efforts were required at the local level to stem the tide of dengue cases. They emphasised while local governments would need to take the lead, active participation of other government agencies, the private sector and the citizens at large would be crucial too.
“Multisectoral efforts are needed to get rid of the virus,” Dr Bhupendra Nath Nagpal, a senior entomologist of WHO South-East Asia Region, said at the programme. “Multisectoral efforts cannot be expected without strong political commitment and will power.”
Nagpal also spoke of how the Delhi government successfully contained the epidemic. He highlighted the commitment shown by Delhi Chief Minister Arbinda Kejriwal in leading all stakeholders to work on a single objective—reducing the cases of dengue.
Delhi’s chief minister launched a special campaign against dengue, which garnered support from celebrities, civil society members and people from all walks of life, which dramatically helped to reduce dengue cases. Social media was used to spread awareness and engage the public.
Strategic long-term initiatives— “creating a robust primary healthcare infrastructure and relentless focus on citizen awareness for prevention and early detection”—were vitally important in the tactical campaign against the outbreak.
Nagpal also informed that the Sri Lankan government mobilised the military in dengue search and destroy drive and the Bangladesh government mobilised 20,000 volunteers for its campaign.
“If the local levels seriously take ownership and launch drive against the virus spreading mosquito accordingly, the ongoing epidemic can be lessened within two weeks,” said Nagpal.
Dr Anup Bastola, a chief consultant on tropical medicine at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, agreed that without a strong political will, the country could not get rid of the dengue epidemic.
“Mass mobilisation is needed to make the people aware and contain the outbreaks,” said Bastola. “That is impossible without strong political will power and single-minded focus from the elected leaders.”
According to Bastola, the government, as well as the political parties, could appeal to the general public and use government staffers, security personnel and party cadres in the campaign against dengue.
At least six people have died and over 8,000 so far have been hospitalised due to infection of the virus, which has now spread to 56 districts.
Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral disease, which is transmitted by the female Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. The vectors breed in clean water and are active during the day. The same mosquitoes also transmit chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika virus, according to the WHO.
According to doctors, mild to high fever, severe muscle pain, rashes, severe headache, and pain in eyes are some of the symptoms of dengue.
The UN health agency says there is no specific treatment for severe dengue, but early detection and access to proper medical care can lower the fatality rate.