As the number of dengue fever patients and fatalities continues to soar, it is time to halt the futile blame game with most people blaming the government for the epidemic, which is slowly but surely spreading from Punjab to other parts of the country. How the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus, first entered the country is debatable. It was first noted in 1994 and reached epidemic proportions in Lahore by 2006, missed out the following year, it hit again in 2010 and has run rampant this time around in the wake of a lengthy summer monsoon. The odds are that dengue is now here to stay and that Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will spread out from Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan and Rawalpindi to encompass a majority of Pakistan, especially lowland regions, in the years to come. The odds also are that the authorities responsible for its elimination will fail in their task for the simple reason that the public at large is predominantly responsible for their own predicament.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito, like other mosquito species, breeds in damp, wet, dirty places and thanks to an almost total lack of civic sense, we have these in abundance. The absence of an efficient garbage collection and disposal service is obviously a major contributory factor to the accumulated filth that has become part and parcel of both urban and rural landscapes. A more massive causative factor, however, is that no one really cares where they dump their garbage as long as it is outside their own personal perimeter of existence. Tossed over boundary walls, dropped from balconies, thrown out of vehicle windows, scattered in the streets, alleyways and byways of wherever people dare to walk. Garbage, a high percentage of it being non-biodegradable, has long been an accepted as part of the scene and it is in this garbage, particularly wet garbage, that mosquitoes breed.
On the whole, the authorities alone did not dump this garbage, although there are exceptions. Ordinary people did this as well and must carry the burden of spreading dengue.
Aside from garbage breeding grounds, the Aedes aegypti mosquito breeds in still or stagnant water. The problem is that for the most part, our local authorities do nothing about this particular aspect. They are negligent in repairing leaky water pipes that are part of the public water distribution system. Also, little or no attention is paid to cracks or maintenance issues in the sewage systems, and in many cases, these are blocked by indiscriminate dumping of garbage and windblown plastic bags. When the roads develop potholes they are not repaired soon enough and this allows rainwater to accumulate. There is also the issue of how private individuals act in such situations. The government cannot check every home to see if water tanks are leaking, if lawns are overwatered or flower beds logged with water. There are also potential issues related to kitchens and bathrooms in many private households, since mosquitoes breed in such places as well.
Also, what about homes where nettings on windows and doors are broken and usually not fixed in time? Surely, the government cannot be blamed for this as well?
Therefore, to a great extent, a significant part of the blame for the ongoing dengue epidemic must lie not with the government but rather with the general public.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2011.