Dengue cases have been rising dramatically in several Southeast Asian countries recently. Dengue (aka dengue fever) is a tropical virus with no known cure that is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It attacks most often in densely populated urban areas.
Singapore registered only 4,632 dengue cases in 2012 but this year the number has already hit 10,257 and continues to rise daily. This is unusually high for Singapore, which last experienced a dengue outbreak in 2005.
Last week, Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health confirmed that dengue cases are three times higher this year than last year. In the past six months, the kingdom has recorded 43,609 cases of dengue fever, with 50 resulting in death. There were only five dengue-related deaths in 2012. Thailand experienced dengue epidemics most recently in 1987 and 1998.
Meanwhile, dengue cases in the Philippines and Malaysia are slightly lower this year compared to the same period in 2012, but the situation nonetheless remains critical. The Philippines’ Department of Health reported 42,207 dengue cases, which is actually one of the highest figures in the region. Malaysia recorded 10,352 dengue cases in the past six months.
According to a recent survey, there are 123,206 dengue patients in six Southeast Asian countries. Alarmed by this creeping pandemic, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) marked June 15 as ASEAN Dengue Day to promote awareness and prevent the spread of the dreaded virus in the region.
Alongside raising awareness, Southeast Asian governments have implemented various programs to fight dengue. Singapore’s National Environment Agency has launched a “Do the Mozzie Wipeout” campaign, a community effort meant to remind citizens of easy and practical steps to disrupt the breeding cycle of the Aedes mosquito. The government also plans to distribute 1.2 million bottles of insecticide to all households next month.
For its part, the Thai government is in the process of establishing a dengue fever “war room” in every province to monitor dengue outbreak on the community level. To date, however, only 26 of Thailand’s 77 provinces have set one up.
The Philippines is promoting a similar community-driven program called Aksyon Barangay Kontra Dengue, which encourages Filipinos to join in the daily “4 o'clock habit” of dropping everything at 4 pm to look for dengue hotspots in homes.
Meanwhile, Malaysia has developed a GIS-based web portal called I-Dengue, which provides updated data on dengue clusters and other useful information such as how to avoid getting the virus.
Because of changing climate patterns and the inevitable rise of mega cities, the dengue virus will continue to terrorize many tropical nations. If left unchecked, it could lead to bigger outbreaks that governments may not be able to adequately handle.
Perhaps the intensified public information drive will wake everyone up to the seriousness of the dengue problem, The virus is one of many deadly communicable diseases in the Asia-Pacific.
Meanwhile, the ongoing dengue outbreak should remind governments to review their development programs. In particular, they should address the challenges posed by rapid urbanization. The epidemic should also prompt officials to improve the region’s health care delivery and the treatment of dengue patients.
In Singapore, netizens were outraged to learn that a dengue victim who died was made to wait five hours in a hospital. It led to the scrutiny of Singapore’s health care system, which some have criticized for being more responsive to the needs of the medical tourism sector than to its own citizens.