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Interview: ‘Everyone needs to be involved in dengue control’

The mosquito Aedes aegypti feeding on a human host. (Photo: Wikicommons)

Every year, the rainy season brings an increase in the number of cases of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease that killed 37 people by this time last year. So far this year, there have been no reported deaths, and the number of cases of infection has dropped to less than quarter of what it was one year ago. To find out more about efforts to keep the disease under control, DVB spoke to Dr. Zaw Lin, the Health Ministry’s dengue programme manager.

Question: How many cases of dengue fever have been recorded this year?

Answer: There have been 1,236 total cases so far. Among that number, 390 cases were recorded in Rangoon, 227 in Tenasserim Division in the south, and 154 cases in Mandalay.

Q: Do you think this year’s dengue outbreak will be as bad as last year?

A: Up to the end of May last year, there were 6,000 cases, so this year’s total is lower in comparison. In total, there were 42,913 cases recorded last year, with Sagaing being the highest-affected area, and Mandalay the second highest. I’m quite confident that there will be a significantly lower number of cases this year.

Q: Why will there be fewer cases?

A: We have been very cautious after the number of cases of dengue last year, so we are now more prepared. We are doing community-based dengue prevention efforts, such as larva-control efforts, on a weekly basis. For example, we are spraying households, and in schools we have used machines to spray insecticide through the whole building. We get everyone out, close all the doors, and then spray all surfaces. Currently we have sprayed 16 townships after looking at our five-year data to identify the high-risk areas.

Q: What are you doing to educate the affected communities?

A: We have health-education sessions informing the community about what dengue is and how it is transmitted. After that, we talk about how we can prevent transmission, what community efforts can reduce the transmission rate, and lastly, what rules should be followed in order to get rid of dengue. We also teach people about the warning signs and when they need to go to hospital.

Q: What are the warning signs of dengue fever?

A: The first is fever, especially in children under 15 years old. Parents have to know that if their child has a fever or is vomiting a coffee-brown colour, or if they have black diarrhoea, then they need to go to the hospital. Once in hospital, they will receive treatment according to the classification. If it is only a low-grade case, they will receive something small like paracetamol and they can tackle it quickly.

Q: How are you dealing with the problem in areas where there are a high number of dengue fever cases?

A: This year we also tried to strengthen our surveillance system. We are increasing our information-sharing capacity based on laboratory and clinical confirmation from different communities. At the township-hospital level, there must now be at least one laboratory technician and district-based laboratory. We have two separate departments — one for prevention and one for case management. Now we have a plan to increase our human capacity and we are working together. We have also increased the number of spraying machines in more townships, so there are now more available and we are planning to train more community volunteers.

It is a great challenge, though, as it is hard to control the infected mosquitoes. Another one of our strategies is to focus on larva control.

Q: What can the community do in their own efforts to prevent dengue fever?

A: Everyone needs to be involved. Focusing on larva control, we need to be aware of the ways that water collects around the home [providing an environment conducive to the breeding of mosquitoes]. Some collects in containers for domestic use, while some collects in the rubbish. Then there are natural containers like bamboo. For all containers, people need to cover them and remove stagnant water from around their homes.