- by breakdengue

Why we are all accountable for dengue’s economic burden

At 2.5%, the mortality rate for dengue may not be as high as other vector-borne diseases, but its impact can be just as devastating. The economic burden of the disease is undermining individuals, communities, and countries.

“Dengue is a high cost burden that’s undermining the population,” Amanda McClelland, Emergency Health Senior Officer at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) explained when we spoke with her. “We see people in the villages getting dengue regularly and it costs them a lot: they’re losing money in wages and spending money on treatment.”

Image courtesy of the IFRC

According to the IFRC advocacy report Dengue: Turning up the volume on a silent disaster, those affected often need to either sell their belongings or take out a loan to pay for medical treatment. The loss of income, decrease in productivity, and cost of medical expenses erodes the resilience of the affected household.

Despite its devastating impact, dengue has failed to grab the attention of the world’s media. Even in Asia Pacific where it is widespread, it only grabbed 9.1% of media attention for selected disasters in 2010.

Image courtesy of the IFRC

“A lack of media attention means two things for us,” Amanda revealed. “Firstly, we can’t get the message out to the population so people’s awareness of dengue is low and that means they’re not able to take simple precautions to protect themselves and their families. And the lack of visibility also affects donor motivation and support for long-term prevention activities.”

Increased support from donors would casino online allow the Red Cross Red Crescent to sustain delivery of integrated community health services – including training and community engagement – that are needed for the environmental sanitation and hygiene promotion that protects people from the disease. “A lot of interventions are not expensive – it’s basic behavior change promotion and social mobilization – but extra donor money for that is always valuable,” Amanda added.

Image courtesy of the IFRC

When there was a large scale five-country outbreak in the Americas last year, the IFRC released $1m from its disaster fund for the outbreak response but then couldn’t fund vital long-term prevention activities. This is often the case despite long-term programs, like one from the Sri Lanka Red Cross for example, producing excellent results. “In Sri Lanka volunteers were able to keep up community support,” shared Amanda, “encouraging environmental sanitation and the wearing of protection, and ensuring people knew when to go to the hospital for treatment.”

The lack of donor motivation is mirrored by a different focus in government investments; and the IFRC recognizes the important role governments have to play in controlling the disease. It is calling on them to strengthen their capacity to respond to the dengue caseload and harness integrated community health services.

Governments also have a wider role to play: in helping to improve disease surveillance, establish the true burden of dengue, support drug research, and sustain focus on the vital work that community workers and volunteers provide.

Amanda believes that all governments – including European governments – could increase their focus and participation on dengue as this is now an issue affecting everyone. “With the economic crisis, the emphasis on public health and vector control in some countries like Greece and Spain has gone down. That has had an impact even on malaria, so we would envisage that that would have an impact on dengue caseloads as well,” noted Amanda. 

Image courtesy of the IFRC

Break Dengue wants to see the economic burden on families reduced. By helping the IFRC turn up the volume, we hope to encourage donors and governments, as well as other stakeholders, to invest in helping combat this disease.