The Sunday Leader

No End In Sight for Dengue Danger

By Nirmala Kannangara
Picture by Asoka Fernando

Clogged canal at Serpentine Road, Borella

The looming dengue crisis is going to worsen unless speedy action is taken to clear the mosquito breeding sites, especially in the Western Province, says the Chief Epidemiologist Dr Pabha Palihawadana.

Thirty-five deaths and 11,900 dengue cases have been reported island-wide as at last week out of which 20 deaths and 60% of reported cases are from the Western Province, said Dr Palihawadana, who added that the much talked about BTI bacteria is not the solution for dengue as it cannot control all the breeding sites.

“Although people think that BTI is the only solution to control dengue, it is not. This is a natural bacterium that eats lava. This can be used in limited areas but it has not shown any good results. Spraying BTI is not practicable. Mosquitoes lay eggs mainly in water containers and how can this bacterium be used for each and every container and gutter,” asked Dr Palihawadana.
She further said that people who were given the BTI have not used the bacterium claiming it is not effective as expected.

“Since these bacteria produce toxins which destroy lava, there is no way this can be sprayed all over. We have to use it only at breeding sites. There is no way we can put this to waterways used for bathing and drinking purposes, but only to clogged canals that are not used by humans. Although we have given these bacteria to certain identified MOH offices to be distributed amongst the people, many of them have not used it claiming it is not practical, which is true. The effectiveness of this bacterium remains only for 10 to 14 days,” said Dr Palihawadana.

The Chief Epidemiologist further said that it is the responsibility of individuals to keep their places free from mosquito breeding sites but added that local authorities too have to be blamed for the clogged drains and canals.
“It is a myth that dengue mosquito lays eggs only in clean water. The clear water is the ideal breeding grounds for Aedes Aegypti and Aedes Albopictus – the two kinds of dengue mosquitoes.

Aedes Aegypti lays eggs in containers and Aedes Albopictus lays eggs in tree holes most of the time. So it is not sufficient only to get the individuals to clean their own premises from mosquito breeding sites but the government officials too should abide by the regulation and clean the blocked drains and canals immediately to prevent further increase of dengue cases, failing which the situation would be more serious,” Dr Palihawadana pointed out.

When asked whether the Epidemiology Unit (EU) gets the exact data on dengue deaths and suspected cases, Dr Palihawadana said that as the Head of the EU, she has an able team of officers that gather all details from all parts of the country.

“Yes there are certain cases where the hospitals do not give the exact cause of death for dengue patients. Sometimes the doctors may have not identified the cause of death as dengue but similar diseases. However, my team and even the general public keep on updating me on the exact data and we conduct death reviews and find out the factual details by going through the bed head tickets and other investigation reports. Although there are certain instances where the hospitals have tried to hide that they have mismanaged the patients, they cannot mislead my teams,” she added.

According to her, other than the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) areas, Dehiwela-Mt. Lavinia, Ratmalana, Moratuwa, Kolonnawa, Maharagama, Piliyandala and Boralesgamuwa are the worst affected in the Colombo district.

Although the residents in Colombo accused the CMC for not taking any interest to clear the clogged drains and canals as much as they pay attention on private lands and residences by fining the general public for having mosquito breeding sites, Director Engineering (Drainage) CMC, M. I. M. Saleem said that the drainage system, which is over 100 years old, is being upgraded to prevent any blocks in future.

“We have received Rs.4, 000 million from the ADB to upgrade the waste water drainage system and the first stage will be ended by 2017 and the entire drainage system could be completed by year 2020. We also got another loan from the ADB for the rain water drainage system for US$ 116 million. Until this drainage system is upgraded, this issue would crop up.

At present there is no capacity to recede the rain water if the rainfall is over 50mm. If the rainfall is less than 50mm the water can recede properly without causing a flood situation. Colombo city received more than 80mm rainfall last Sunday and that was the reason why there was a mini flood situation in many areas,” Saleem said.

However Saleem said that it is the Low Land Reclamation Board that is responsible for cleaning canals but not the CMC.

Engineer Amarasinghe of the Low Land Reclamation Board, when contacted, said that other than the main canals, all other small canals have to be cleaned by the CMC.

“All the big canals that come under our purview have been cleaned by us and the blocked canals you are referring to have to be cleaned by the CMC,” said Amarasinghe.

Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer CMC Dr Ruwan Wijemuni said that due to a dearth of CMC staff, he has failed to carry out a satisfactory work within the city limit although he has tried his best to provide a good service.

“There are 47 wards in the city limits and it is the Public Health Inspectors (PHI) that inspect these areas for dengue breeding sites. However, there is a dearth and we need 75 PHIs to carry out a good work. We have only 46. We need six Medical Officers of Health (MOH) but have only four. It is the same with other staff as well,” said Dr Wijemuni.

“We have to control the female mosquitoes that lay around 1,500 eggs at one time. Hence we first have to destroy the female mosquitoes,” he added.
According to him, once a patient infected with dengue virus is bitten by a female dengue mosquito, the mosquito is infected with the virus. This infected mosquito can infect thousands of healthy people.

“My advice is for any person that has fever these days is to use a mosquito net to prevent spreading the disease further. The potential vector could be around you from dusk to dawn and even during the day time. Whilst we have to control the vector we have to protect the healthy people as well,” added Dr Wijemuni.

When asked whether he is confident that his PHIs do not accept bribes and not taking action against dengue breeders, the Chief Medical Officer said that he has not received any complaints about his PHIs but said that there are few complaints about the overseers for taking bribes to spray fumes.

“We have never got any complaints about the PHIs but we have received some complaints about the spray labourers and overseers for taking bribes. Residents have complained to us about these CMC workers who demand money to spray mosquito replants. They pay these CMC workers, without knowing that it is carried out free of charge. We have taken stern action against them. The common belief that when the spraying is done the mosquitoes die is a myth. Only the lavas die with these replants but not the adult mosquitoes,” he added.

2 Comments for “No End In Sight for Dengue Danger”

  1. Ma Per

    While checking up on private residences and schools – could the government please see that the public drains and cleaned and disinfected regularly. Also the roads, even the carpeted ones have deep holes with water collecting in them after even a slight shower of rain. Could our beloved Defence Secretary who is in charge of the carpeting of roads, please see to this.

  2. Ma Per

    What about the anti-mosquito bacteria from Cuba?

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