As a physician working on the control of infectious diseases for the past 23 years, I have seen first-hand the suffering dengue fever can cause, including to my own son.
Currently, Dengue is spreading to wider geographical areas and as it reemerges across the globe, 40% of the world’s population is estimated to be at risk. The biggest challenge we currently face is the increasing number of cases and the new regions where the disease is spreading, including within India.
The Indian National Vector-Borne Disease Control Program reported more than 75,000 cases of dengue in 2013. However, with below-optimal standards for the surveillance and reporting of cases, this figure is perhaps only a fraction of the actual number.
The agency has developed strategies and action plans to control dengue, but there is much room for improvement in implementation, including the promotion of dengue prevention methods among communities at risk.
If we want to have a chance of fighting this disease, I believe we need strong institutions and champions across the world who will take up the cause of advocacy for effective policy making and implementation, research for affordable and effective solutions, and improved information, education and communication for controlling dengue globally.
Right now things seem to be heading in the right direction. Following publication of the WHO Roadmap for Neglected Tropical Diseases, significant attention has focused on neglected infectious diseases like dengue. In India itself, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is contributing to the achievement of the WHO 2020 goals for neglected tropical disease prevention and control. Global commitment also received a boost with the WHO’s “Small Bite, Big Threat” awareness slogan for 2014.
Vaccines against dengue are at the developmental stage: possibly the greatest hope of finally stopping the spread of dengue. Meanwhile, simple tools like awareness campaigns about common methods of prevention, education on the warning signs for dengue hemorrhagic fever, and community activation to eliminate stagnant water pools where mosquitoes breed could all have a big impact.
However, I know just how great the challenge is. Being a public health physician, I naturally adopted all preventive measures against dengue within the four walls of my house. Still, despite my best efforts, my son contracted the disease in 2009.