Another day, another dengue record
Bangladesh has hit an unwanted milestone this week as the total number of dengue cases in 2023 reached 1,02,197 (till August 21) – the highest in a single year – surpassing the 2019 high of 1,01,354 in just under eight months. Earlier, the country saw another record broken in terms of the number of deaths, which has crossed 485. We're officially in the worst phase of the short history of dengue on our shores – a stark reminder of how this disease evolved from a seasonal nuisance tied to some cities 23 years ago into an uncontrollable force of nature spreading its tentacles across the country.
It's also illustrative of the failure of this government that has repeatedly failed to heed calls for caution – and prioritise the well-being of citizens over its parochial interests – even though the last few years sent plenty of warnings to that effect. Even now, when overwhelmed hospitals are turning patients away, and essential services have been stretched thin, there is still no sense of urgency in our policy circles. A national health emergency is yet to be declared, and a central wing is yet to be opened to expedite and coordinate dengue-related interventions. The authorities in Dhaka, which saw at least 363 deaths till August 21 this year, as well as in other cities are still following traditional, largely ineffective methods of dengue control. As we have warned in a recent editorial, the current measures undertaken by the city corporations are not only unscientific, but are actually contributing to the surge in dengue cases.
August-September is usually considered the peak time for dengue. But if this year has taught us anything, it is that this disease is evolving fast, with new variants and risks of multiple infections coming into the fray, while the deadly combination of rain and increasing warming of our atmosphere (which helps Aedes mosquitoes to breed) may lengthen the danger period. In other words, there may not be any relief any time soon, despite the relative decline seen in recorded cases lately. Additionally, dengue has grown into a year-long menace by now. What all this means is that traditional strategies will no longer work.
The authorities, therefore, must shed their laissez faire approach, and allow scientists to fashion a comprehensive response with an eye to the future. Given the current danger level, the priority now is to reduce infections at any cost and equip all hospitals properly. The authorities must not fail in this task.