High Alert For Dengue
By Niranjala Ariyawansa
The government last week declared a dengue eradication month from June 25 to July 25. This is the first time an entire month has been declared to eradicate dengue as compared to a dengue prevention week announced previously.
Was the dengue prevention week extended to a month owing to the rapid spread of dengue around the country over the past few months? Or is it because a rise in dengue is seen during the months of June and July? Or is it because the government has not been satisfied with its dengue prevention week conducted so far this year?
Dengue has spread all around the country. However according to government statements when compared to previous years the number of dengue related deaths over the first few months of this year has been less. The number of people affected by dengue has seen a rapid increase.
Addressing the media last week Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena said that the restrictions imposed on private companies to import the BTI bacteria, which is used to control the spread of the dengue mosquito, has been relaxed. So accordingly private companies can now import the BTI bacteria.
The Minister further said that government institutions had failed to pay enough attention to control the spread of dengue mosquitoes. The Presidential Task force to counter the spread of dengue was formed two years ago. The Task Force which met under President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga on March 31 this year had decided to dispatch letters to government institutions on the need to take action to prevent the spread of dengue. The letter had instructed government institutions to form dengue prevention committees and clear their office surroundings. The letter was sent to 340 government institutions but only 14 institutions formed the committees. The remaining 326 institutions ignored the instructions given.
“The Presidential secretary issues instructions on behalf of the President. If those instructions are not implemented then it means the government institutions are ignoring instructions from the President. If this is how government institutions operate then how are we going to control the spread of dengue?” the Director of the dengue prevention unit of the Colombo National Hospital Dr. Ranjith Batuwantudawe said.
The Secretary to the Ministry of Health Dr. Ravindra Ruberu meanwhile said he was not present at the press briefing addressed by the Minister of Health so he could not comment on the decision to allow private institutions to import the BTI bacteria.
“What we hope to do during the dengue prevention month is to further strengthen the dengue prevention programs which we carried out during the dengue prevention week. If someone thinks this can be done only by the Health Ministry that is wrong. We can direct the public only. Dengue prevention is 50 percent in the hands of the public and 50 percent in the hands of the government. Most government institutions do not implement the dengue prevention programs. Even when someone dies of dengue people in that same house will not clean the premises. We can’t go on like this. I also don’t think the BTI bacteria is the right way to go. That is only one method to contain the spread of the bacteria. Some assume what we have done so far to contain the spread of dengue was successful because compared to last year this year we have seen less deaths over the first few months. We want to reduce the number of deaths and the breeding of mosquitoes in the environment,” Dr. Ravindra Ruberu said.
Around the world 20 million people suffer from dengue and of this 500 suffer from serious complications and 90 percent often die. Dengue was first identified in Sri Lanka in 1962 and in 1965 it was termed as an epidemic.
The spread of dengue in the Western province has been attributed to the population increase, urbanization and more garbage.
However responding to the contradictory statements of the government, environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardena said that he does not feel the BTI bacteria is the best option.
“You need proper clearance for that and it takes several months. The issue is once it is imported will the government sell it or will it be given to the private sector to sell. But ultimately the people will have to bear the burden of the cost. The dengue prevention act was introduced in 2007 but it is not actually a prevention act but to reduce it. But the government is not controlling the spread of dengue but taking action against people using the laws. They fine people. Meanwhile Cuba did not show us how to create the BTI bacteria. They are cheating us,” he said.
The dengue unit of the epidemiology section in the Health Ministry website was last updated in May 18 this year. So according to what Jagath Gunawardena says there is no attempt to even update the data on the number of people affected by dengue.
Dengue is at any event increasing day by day and the blame is on the government from various parties but the public also cannot deviate from their responsibilities.
More than 300, yet to implenent
Government institutions which have implemented the dengue prevention month in accordance with the Health Ministry instructions.
Ministries – 45
Departments – 90
Constitutionally approved institutions - 142
Corporations – 24
Boards - 30
Authority – 33
Commissions – 21
Total number of state institutions – 340
Number of institutions which implemented the order - 14
Number of institutions which did not implement the order - 326