Author Topic: Asean can help end this plague - Dengue Fever in Nakhon Ratchasima  (Read 1137 times)


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Asean can help end this plague

This year's long hot summer has already brought much discontent and suffering. Now comes a warning from public health offices in the North and Northeast that an old scourge has returned to inflict its misery. The enemy is the mosquito and the disease is dengue. Mass spraying is already taking place in Nakhon Ratchasima, which has 486 people diagnosed with mosquito-borne dengue fever, and in Buri Ram, which has 360. Most victims are youngsters and at least two have died.

Last month the vector-borne virus struck in the South and infected 123 people in Phuket, prompting warnings of a virulent strain worsened by the extremely hot and humid weather. One epidemiologist noted the increase in the number of cases over this time last year and blamed global warming _ something long suspected but never proven. If dengue is ever conclusively linked to climate change then the disease is likely to spread to more temperate regions. If that were to happen, pharmaceutical companies might show greater interest in research and development because the developed world offers more business potential than cash-poor developing countries. But the reality is that there is no cure, vaccine or effective treatment at present for any of the four strains of the disease, or the more serious dengue haemorrhagic fever or dengue shock syndrome.

Given that it puts an average of 400,000 people who live in Southeast Asia into hospital every year, the countries of Asean would do well to seize the initiative and mobilise the considerable pool of scientific and medical talent available throughout the region to find a vaccine or treatment. Some small-scale research is going on but it is underfunded. A collective effort, conducted under the aegis of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, could achieve a breakthrough.

A year ago there was no shortage of consultative help from Asean together with government money invested to win the battle against the H1N1 (A) flu virus, which has now disappeared from the headlines. The dengue virus has not, nor is it about to do so. Malaysia has already recorded a rise in the number of deaths caused by the disease of more than 30% in the first four months of this year, with 55 fatalities out of 15,982 dengue cases. And this is before the rainy season.

No longer is it a disease confined to remote rural areas. In recent years it has become a problem in suburban Bangkok and not one to be taken lightly. In some adults, a full recovery can take several months. This is the season when we must launch all-out war on the striped female aedes mosquito which bites during the day and carries dengue and chikungunya fever. The only way to combat these disease-carriers is to remain in a state of perpetual warfare against them. That means constant surveillance, education and clean-up campaigns.

It also means wiping out these pests by eradicating them in their breeding grounds, especially in stagnant water. Old tyres, discarded bottles and plastic containers are magnets for these insects. Chemical fogging is usually employed only after a case of infection has been confirmed. That is usually too late. Such measures need to be used before infected mosquitoes draw blood.

The problem is not being completely ignored. The latest ploy involves genetic engineering to develop wingless female mosquitoes or to sterilise males so they are unable to reproduce. Scientists say this would stop the females from spreading disease, but such tampering with nature could have unexpected consequences. For now we must concentrate on swatting them, repelling them and destroying their habitat.

Bangkok Post