When it comes to the current dengue crisis in Asia, the region is largely at climate’s mercy. Short term, raised temperatures driven by a strong El Niño have led to large-scale dengue outbreaks in 2015. We spoke to Patrick Fuller, communications manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Asia Pacific Zone, about the dengue situation in Southeast Asia, how the IFRC is helping and what more could be done.
“You always get dengue spikes during a monsoon, but this year’s (2015) El Niño has caused climatic shifts with less rainfall in some countries and more in others,” explains Patrick. “We’ve seen dengue spikes in the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, India and Indonesia, but Thailand and Cambodia have been hit the hardest. Cases in Thailand have tripled this year and Cambodia has seen a 350 percent increase on last year.”
IFRC’s health sector activities in Asia Pacific – in the Pacific, East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia – are very broad. The movement helps to support the work of national societies across the region, which covers a total of 37 countries. Each national society helps vulnerable people within its own borders, working in conjunction with the IFRC movement.
The dengue crisis left hospitals overwhelmed
Big spikes in dengue and people requiring hospitalization mean hospitals simply don’t have the bed space. After all, hospitals only have a limited number of many beds.
Patrick reveals how the IFRC is lending a hand, “In the Philippines this year, for example, the Philippine Red Cross set up a couple of hundred bed hospital tents in the Cavite province to support local health structures and equip them with blood supplies and other materials needed. They were just overwhelmed. It was the same story in Thailand.”
In parallel, the Philippine Red Cross put out an appeal to the public to donate blood to boost available supplies.
Patrick sees so many people attending hospital as a positive. “It means people recognise the symptoms of the disease, which is a step forwards. In Thailand, a survey by the Ministry of Health showed that more than 80 percent of Thais know about dengue fever.”
Taking awareness to a new level
The survey also found, however, that only 20 percent of people had actually done something in their communities to eradicate the larvae of the mosquitoes responsible for spreading dengue. Patrick comments, “In general, raising awareness around dengue tends to be reactive rather than proactive. That needs to change. There has to be higher level of awareness surrounding the dangers of this disease – not just during emergency situations, but throughout the year.”
The IFRC is focusing much of its efforts on community-based interventions, prioritizing health awareness and education. Not only does it broadcast public health messages on the mass media channels people are reading and listening to, but its volunteers spread the message from house to house and raise awareness in schools.
Patrick sights Vietnam Red Cross as a good example, “Vietnam are strong on mobilizing mass media; using volunteers to go out and distribute leaflets to households, schools and students; and putting up posters on the symptoms of dengue, explaining how people can prevent mosquitoes from breeding around their houses. This really has an impact.”
Increased civic responsibility
Alongside health education and awareness, behavior change is really critical. An increased level of civic responsibility is needed to help contain and eradicate dengue.
“In some countries our volunteers run clean-up campaigns where they tell people to keep the areas around their homes, their communities and anywhere where the dengue mosquito can breed clear from garbage,” reveals Patrick. “These societies have the capacity and the funding to do this as part of their partnerships with other organizations and with local government.”
In parallel with this type of approach, some countries are considering how they can be more stringent with the local population. Local authorities are considering imposing cash fines on the people and businesses that don’t co-operate with the health authorities to stop the virus.
Patrick reveals why, “In Asia, dengue is largely an urban disease and we are seeing such rapid urbanization. There are construction sites everywhere in major Asian cities, providing the ideal conditions for the spread of disease.”
Dengue is hitting Asia really hard this year, and with climate change and the outlook for years to come is looking equally bleak.
Help us spread the word on what communities can do to halt dengue in its tracks. Whether you’re in Asia or elsewhere across the globe, share your stories about how community is helping to stop the spread of dengue.