Another looming health threat | Daily News

Another looming health threat

The monsoonal rains has brought with it once again the threat of dengue and other diseases and epidemics which health experts warn could grow into serious proportions if adequate precautions are not taken and warnings go unheeded.

True, the nation today has to give top priority to the deadly Coronavirus pandemic. However in the process the public may tend to overlook the threat posed by an equally potent epidemic - dengue. In terms of lives claimed Dengue has far exceeded the toll taken so far by the Coronavirus.

That is why quite recently top epidemiologist Dr. Sudath Samaraweera warned of a severe outbreak of dengue and also rat fever and has urged the public to follow the same alertness and caution they displayed when dealing with the Coronavirus.

His warning cannot be taken lightly. According to a news report, a total of 30,699 dengue cases were reported from around the country in the year just ended with nearly 50 deaths, while rat fever accounted for 70 deaths with over 8,200 persons affected. This, in a situation where only 11 deaths occurred in the entire country during the first wave of the COVID-19. In terms of the recovery rate too the Coronavirus has made significant headway compared to Dengue where survival could be a tough battle.

Hence, like the Coronavirus, there is another lurking health threat that may descend upon us. If no timely action is taken, it is bound to eclipse even the damage caused by the deadly pandemic. The only difference here is while Dengue has a cure (a vaccine too is on its way in a few years) and its spread could be contained the Coronavirus will continue to remain in our midst until an effective vaccine comes to our shores for which prospects seem to be bright.

However, dengue is known to take a heavy toll among those affected and the sooner emergency measures are put in place to confront the threat the easier it will be to come out of the crisis. Prompt measures are called for to identify and destroy the dengue mosquito vector that is lurking in our midst.

The danger here is, preoccupied as they are with the Coronavirus, even the health authorities and medical experts may tend to push the threat posed by Dengue into the background which could prove costly. The forecast made by Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi of a rapid spread of the dengue epidemic in the midst of the COVID-19, some weeks ago, has now come to pass with the outbreak of the monsoon. The National Dengue Prevention Unit which is focused on the epidemic had raised alarm that the dengue mosquito larvae density had reached a monstrous 80 per cent in schools, Government departments and construction sites which have all been lying abandoned for long periods during the lockdown periods and have provided breeding grounds for dengue mosquitoes.

No doubt, the health sector had been stretched to capacity to cope with the Coronavirus. But this is no reason to bypass an equally alarming crisis which if allowed to get out of hand could make the Coronavirus pale into insignificance. Hence, the Health Ministry should get cracking without delay in devising emergency measures to combat a looming Dengue epidemic with the same commitment and resourcefulness its staff is displaying in fighting the Coronavirus.

The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) can play an important role in this connection. Mayor Rosy Senanayake has praised President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the efficiency he showed in combating the Coronavirus. She now has the opportunity to complement the President’s success by making her own contribution in tackling Dengue in the City, for it is the Colombo City which is most vulnerable to epidemics, given its vast population and profusion of buildings that provide a ready invitation to the dengue mosquito. The CMC should embark on a massive cleanup campaign in the City and commence fumigation of all suspected spots thought to be habouring the dengue mosquito vector.

The authorities should take prompt action to ‘smoke out’ all abandoned structures and untenanted buildings with the focus centred on schools in the Western Province which are due to reopen on January 25.

While the health guidelines with respect to the Coronavirus are strictly enforced we must be aware of the dangers posed by other diseases and viruses in our midst and appropriate steps must be taken to counter these threats.

Thankfully, the Coronavirus has opened the eyes of citizens to think anew regarding the precautions to be taken to protect themselves health-wise. It also brought about a new outlook in the people and had forced them out of their set routines and behavioural patterns all of which cumulatively auger well for healthy lifestyles which in turn could lead to a reduction in the national health budget in these trying times. Hopefully, these practices will come to stay leading to the control of many other diseases such as dengue in the future.