Dengue visits Pakistan every year and takes an often dreadful toll. So far this year, there have been 37 cases reported in Islamabad hospitals, some of whom are from Swat but the majority from Rawalpindi. Swat is currently being ravaged by the disease, with 8,083 positive cases and 23 deaths reported between August 7 and October 5. Local resources are stretched beyond breaking point and private laboratories in and around Besham are charging Rs1,000 per patient for the dengue test. The tiny Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Besham is forced to accommodate patients in the open. It does not have diagnosis kits, there are few nurses and it lacks even mosquito nets. Most of those infected are children. Despite the huge challenges, the hospital is still able to see patients through to recovery, and about 100 patients have been discharged — a tribute to overstretched staff and no thanks to scant resources.
This is a disease which it may not be possible to eradicate but it is possible to mitigate. At the heart of the problem is a failure of public health education. Dengue is being reported from areas where it is not usually endemic this year, a worrying trend as there will be no local preparedness and it is indicative of just how opportunistic the disease is. Lahore provides us with a useful example. In the 2011 outbreak, there were 16,580 cases and 257 deaths, possibly the worst outbreak the country has ever seen. Other cities in Punjab saw 5,000 cases and 60 deaths. In the two years since, very few cases have been reported, the result of responsible authorities taking large-scale action, raising public awareness and minimising the sites where dengue can be harboured. Much of the rest of the country has also seen efforts to fight dengue with varying degrees of success. Preventing the disease is better than curing people of it and action must be taken wherever dengue rears its head, and because an area is dengue free, it cannot be assumed that that will always be the case.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2013.
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