Dengue and excuses

Minister defends the numbers

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We are already into the reasonably cold November and the fear of contracting dengue fever still lurks around. Besides Punjab, other parts of the country too are in the grip of this epidemic. And the excuse we get from the provincial health minister Dr Yasmeen Rashid is that the year 2019 is a spike year for dengue according to the epidemiological patterns of the last 10 years. In an article, she said the “first spike was seen in 2011 when we lost 350 patients to this deadly virus, with total number of patients crossing 20,000 mark. The next spike came in 2015 when 4213 patients were confirmed in the province.”

As per the four-year cycle, she argues that this year is the spike year and most of over seven thousand cases in Punjab received treatment at public sector hospitals.

She reluctantly admits that a few localities in Rawalpindi were neglected and missed by surveillance teams. The larva continued to grow into the mosquito and the epidemic started in Rawalpindi. She attributes her government’s effective Case Response, there is significant reduction in number of new cases. She also quotes extensive figures from other countries to prove her point that it is a global pandemic that has taken Asia by surprise. Even countries with advanced research facilities have struggled to control the disease.

While this is good exercise to educate people around the dreadful disease, this does not justify government’s lackluster response to the epidemic that was pretty much under control until last year. If she could spot the ‘spike year’ phenomenon now that we have suffered so much because of it why couldn’t she preempt it and take action in advance.

From literally being nonexistent last year, the number of dengue patients across Pakistan has crossed 50,000. According to a conservative estimate, at least 250 people have already died of dengue in different parts of the country, the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad being the worst-hit areas.  At least 25,000 people in the twin cities have tested positive for the dengue virus. The ministers, both in Punjab and at the federal level, are doctors by professions and have significant experience in managing public health projects. They were expected to be a bit more preemptive in their work rather than falling behind the curve and always reacting in a firefighting mode and cutting a sorry figure.