Nip dengue threat in the bud to avoid virus double whammy — Jacob Lee Yee Yuan

APRIL 7 — While the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) dominates the headlines across Malaysia, the dangers of dengue should not be overlooked. We’ve got a potential double whammy where the nation could be hit by two dangerous infectious diseases at the same time if the situation continues to be overlooked and left unchecked by authorities. We cannot battle a two-front epidemiological war that puts lives at risk just because we failed to undertake timely and decisive preventive measures. This scenario must put a sense of urgency among local authorities to take appropriate anti-dengue measures to manage public health before a new pandemic arise.

Dengue fever has been reportedly on the rise recently and it is reaching an alarming level. Although the Federal government in cooperation with state governments and local authorities have been taking regular preventive measures, this is not enough. The growing number of cases recently, especially in Selangor, raise grave concerns about the efficacy of the initiatives by the state health and municipal authorities in preventing the spread of the disease.

According to the government’s iDengue portal, 35,681 cases had been reported from December 29, 2019, to April 6 this year with 58 deaths so far. It is not surprising that Selangor again topped the chart by recording the highest number of cases in the country with 21,773 cases or 61% of the total reported nationwide, followed by Johor with 2,859 cases and Kuala Lumpur with 2,606 cases. The disease profile map shows dengue’s intensity in many hot spots in Selangor. In fact, the health authorities had identified 227 dengue hotspots nationwide, of which 204 were in Selangor. Among the districts with highest cumulative dengue cases in Selangor were Petaling, Hulu Langat, Klang and Gombak.

Malaysia has consistent hot and humid weather year-round. With monsoon rains, it might have caused the sudden spike. In Malaysia, dengue threat heightens in urban and semi-urban areas because of poor drainage and human ignorance. Despite the latest spike in dengue fever in Selangor, it has failed to evoke a heightened sense of urgency from the Selangor government.

With increasing monsoon rains, Selangor faces heightened risk of vector borne diseases given the steady increase in mosquitos. Current rainfall patterns and warm weather are optimal conditions for mosquitos to breed hence highlighting dangers of dengue transmission. Now that the Covid-19 lockdown has left many construction sites abandoned due to Movement Control Order (MCO), this will lead to a spurt in the mosquito population.

The existing practice of vector control may not be sufficient for the effective management of vector-borne diseases. In February, the Selangor government allocated RM5 million to the local authorities to carry out dengue preventive programmes, including clearing mosquito breeding sites, compared to RM3 million last year. However, State Health, Welfare, Women Empowerment and Family Executive Councillor Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud also stated that only 30% of the breeding sites in the state could be cleared, as the authorities were unable to act on all hot spots.

Executing intensive vector control programme from the onset of a monsoon season is fundamental to thwarting any potential dengue epidemic in the country, but the Selangor government failed to take the much-needed initiative in that respect. Hands-on social-political leadership and management is crucial in dengue prevention and control, it is certainly not limited to only allocating fund or delegating responsibility to local authorities to deal with the problem. Although community-based preventive programmes are expected, the people are largely disappointed with an apparent lack of leadership and urgency within the Selangor government to rally all available resources in the fight against dengue.

Malaria, filariasis, dengue, Zika and chikungunya are some of the diseases transmitted by vectors. The Selangor government must recognise the impending threat from the growing statistics of dengue cases in the state. Drop the ‘hangat-hangat tahi ayam’ attitude and start controlling and preventing the disease wholeheartedly and consistently before it worsens against the backdrop of our ongoing tough battle to contain Covid-19 pandemic, which Selangor also appallingly topped the chart with 970 Covid-19 cases recorded as of April 6.

It is a shame that being Selangorians mean we are facing twin threats from Covid-19 and dengue. This is dreadfully and there is little sign of improvement. If one is contracted with both diseases at the same time, the chances of death is significantly higher. Imagine if a dengue patient in Selangor has to seek treatment in hospital, he or she now risk of being exposed to Covid-19 as there are eight designated hospitals handling Covid-19 cases. Moreover, as increasing dengue cases are reported daily, it inevitably adds more burden to already strained hospital staff battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Selangor government has to step up and lead now at this difficult time. Stop shrugging off the need for leadership and wash you hands off with statements like money has been allocated or delegating responsibility to local councils. The people needs anti-mosquito fogging operation to be conducted consistently and effectively in hot spots without hearing more excuses. It is the common wish of Selangorians not to see the state top the chart again in both dengue and Covid-19 cases nationwide and it is the Selangor government's duty of care to provide necessary prevention and protection to the people in responsible manner and effective ways.

* Jacob Lee is the deputy chairman of Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap)

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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