When I was studying for my medical entomology degree at the Health Services Academy in Islamabad, Pakistan, I contracted dengue. I found out how excruciatingly painful and harmful this disease could be. After my recovery, I became very passionate about fighting dengue, malaria, and other infectious diseases. I knew the bite of one tiny mosquito could destroy a life, and I wanted to do everything in my power to prevent that from happening ever again.
To combat dengue we need to create awareness and build the capacities of local communities, so that people can learn how to help themselves. A uniform response and early detection are needed.
In 2013, I investigated an outbreak of dengue in the Swat Valley, north of Islamabad, in which over 10,000 cases of dengue were reported to the directorate of Malaria Control. The conditions were really dire and 400 people died in the outbreak, dislocating entire communities and turning many children into orphans.
To prevent the further spread of the disease, we applied fogging – spraying insecticide that is non-harmful to humans – to the affected areas. We also informed the community how they could protect themselves, for example using mosquito nets while resting. The people were very welcoming and grateful for our support and organized seminars in the community on how to recognize the larvae and treat infected water supplies.
The graph above shows how many cases were reported every day in the Swat Valley. It is clear that the campaign was a huge success, as the Swat Valley communities developed very high awareness and resistance. For 2014, the data show that dengue is no longer a day-to-day issue.
Although the campaign in the Swat Valley was a success, what is missing is a coordinated, national response to dengue. A lot of progress has been made in the areas around Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, but dengue keeps spreading to those regions that lack training and the capacity to fight it.
Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia – countries that have decades of experience with dengue – all use GPS technology to map and track reported cases of dengue. As soon as a case occurs, they can send a rapid response team to deal with the contamination, which is a very efficient system for preventing further spread. Pakistan has learned many lessons from previous outbreaks of dengue, but it needs to develop a coordinated, cross-sector response to outbreaks.
Initiatives like Break Dengue are so important. We need the support and the attention of the international community, which is a huge boost for everyone involved in the fight against dengue and an enormous inspiration to the young students in universities.
Many people in the Western world don’t know about dengue and don’t sympathize with the victims, but we really have to show why people should care. Building awareness is the only way forward towards prevention.
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About Jaipal Singh MS in Medical Entomology
Jaipal Singh holds a MS degree in Medical Entomology from the Health Services Academy in Islamabad, Pakistan. He specializes in mosquito vectors of infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, and leishmaniasis. He is associated with the Directorate of Malaria Control in Islamabad and has four years of field experience reporting and preventing infectious diseases.