Tiny but dangerous insects called mosquitoes can transmit deadly diseases like malaria, zika, dengue, chikungunya and various forms of diseases encephalitis. What philanthropist and entrepreneur Bill Gates said about mosquitoes deserves close attention. He said, "When it comes to killing humans, no other animal even comes close".
According to a report, on an average, sharks kill fewer than a dozen people a year, snakes 50,000, humans kill around half a million and mosquitoes kill twice that by transmitting diseases, notably like malaria, dengue and chikungunya. By numbers, globally 438,000 deaths from malaria alone occurred in 2015. According to a report, the majority of them were children under five.
Sri Lanka is now facing its worst-ever dengue outbreak with the mosquito-borne virus killing 225 people and infecting more than 76,000 in the first six months of this year. Alarmed by the magnitude of the crisis, the government deployed 400 soldiers and police officers to clear away rotting garbage, stagnant water pools and other potential mosquito-breeding grounds. Colombo's chief medical officer, Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni, said that people's failure to clear puddles and piles of trash after last month's heavy monsoon rains had compounded the problem. Wijayamuni said, "It's pathetic that they don't keep clean their environment. Some residents do not allow officials to inspect their houses and clean them. This is really unacceptable". Such carelessness on the part of the people happens in Bangladesh also
According to the Sri Lankan Health Ministry, the number of infections nationwide is already 38 per cent higher than last year 2016, when 55,150 people were diagnosed with dengue and 97 died. The highest number of cases in the region is around the main city of Colombo though cases are also being reported across the tropical island nation. However, Dr. Priscilla Samaraweera of the National Dengue Eradication Unit said that this is mostly an urban disease. Last month's heavy rains left the cities waterlogged, with puddles and rain-soaked garbage providing ideal spots for mosquitoes to breed and multiply. In Colombo alone, 25 teams of soldiers, police officers and public health inspectors were knocking on doors at people's homes, advising them to clear clogged drains and empty outdoor pots that might have filled with rainwater.
Health officials are also fumigating public spaces. This year's strain is particularly dangerous, Samaraweera said. There is no cure for any of the four strains of the virus, which causes a high fever, weeks of exhaustion and in some cases a vicious skin rash. Most patients at risk of dying are the elderly, children or those with other medical complications. Military spokesman Brigadier Roshan Senevirathna said that hospitals were crowded with dengue patients.
Humid monsoon weather, stagnant water from flooding, as well as mounting piles of rotting garbage accumulating in the Sri Lankan capita have combined to create abundant areas for mosquitoes to multiply. It also happens in Bangladesh. The scale of the spread of the disease has been unprecedented and has caught Sri Lankan authorities off guard. The authorities have blamed a garbage disposal crisis in Colombo for the spread of dengue. The country's main rubbish tip collapsed in April 2017, crushing dozens of homes and killing 32 people. With nowhere to take the trash, municipal collection has drastically slowed and led to huge piles on the streets which authorities say helped mosquito-breeding.
Such rotting garbage accumulating and stagnant water are common in the capitals and elsewhere of countries like Bangladesh and India. Dengue fever has been gripping Bangladesh for the last few years. Thanks to awareness of people, the magnitude of dengue could be lessened over the years. But of late, mosquitoes have brought in a new danger in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh.
It was warned in May this year 2017 that Bangladesh is vulnerable to chikungunya. But it did break out in an epidemic form in the city and elsewhere in the country before the health authorities took sufficient measures to check the disease. The health and family welfare ministry and the two city corporations of Dhaka combined together organised what they called a 'symbolic' awareness campaign in the middle of June 2017 to warn city-dwellers about the dangers related to mosquito-borne diseases when chikungunya outbreak was in its worst form.
Mosquito-borne disease like chikungunya is a new arrival in our country. But the campaign was symbolic. The action should have been taken speedily when the disease started taking its toll on the people's health. The awareness campaign is indeed necessary, but it is not enough to cope with the disease. The only consolation is that fatalities from chikungunya are very low. The only way to contain it is to eradicate mosquitoes with a measure akin to that taken by the Sri Lankan authority to save people from dengue. The authorities including the two Dhaka City Corporations (DCCs) should take actions to fight mosquito menace immediately.
Health experts say a massive awareness campaign is needed to destroy the breeding grounds of mosquito for stopping outbreak of the disease. Chikungunya-affected people should drink much water and take full rest. There is no need of any laboratory test as the disease could be recognized easily by observing some common symptoms. Health experts say that two species of mosquito - aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus - cause chikungunya diseases. The presence of aedes albopictus mosquito in rural areas is very high compared to urban areas. The virus is transmitted from human to human by the bites of aedes mosquitoes.
According to the Directorate General of Health Service (DGHS), "Chikungunya is not serious like other mosquito-borne diseases. After a particular time, patients get recovery without receiving any special medical treatment". Chikungunya infected patients should not be admitted to hospitals and even they do not need to go to hospitals for any test to diagnose the disease, it added. Health experts say the symptoms of the disease appear between four and seven days after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. However, people are still suffering as the doctors seem to be confused to prescribe medicine and they advise the patients complete bed rest and to take much liquid. They prescribe overdose of painkillers to ameliorate the sufferings of the patients.
According to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) more than 2,100 chikungunia patients have already reported for medical treatment in the capital till July 05 this year. People in rural areas of the country are at a high risk for the disease as studies show high presence of aedes mosquitoes in the countryside. Since the disease is taking its toll on the people's health, the authorities need to take measures to eliminate the breeding grounds of mosquitoes in cities and rural areas.
The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.
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