Least concern for the most vulnerable
This year, Bangladesh is experiencing one of its worst dengue outbreaks yet. Even before the peak season, the number of cases has risen beyond 20,878 and the number of deaths from dengue has reached 106. Amid such a deadly outbreak, street children have unfortunately remained the most overlooked, while also being the most vulnerable to infection. According to a report in this newspaper, most street children are, in fact, not aware of dengue fever. Living the majority of their days under the open sky, these children are very vulnerable to dengue, but have zero access to treatment for it. Their best bet is to find shelter under a polythene sheet or in a slum – neither of which seem very safe, especially for children.
As it is, dengue infection can be most dangerous for children. Because of the lack of nutritious food they have access to, street children tend to have even lower immunity. Add to this the lack of medical care available to them, their lack of knowledge about dengue and how to treat it, and many of these children are surviving purely on luck.
Although there is no comprehensive data about the number of street children in Dhaka – which itself is a grave travesty – the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) conducted a survey in 2022 and estimated that the number of street children in the country might be over one million, 48.5 percent of whom live in Dhaka. And 20.9 percent of these children are involved in waste collection activities, which means the likelihood of them being exposed to Aedes mosquitoes is extremely high. So, it can be safely assumed that a vast number of street children have been suffering silently from the disease, while the entire government machinery has been totally oblivious to their plight.
This is completely unacceptable. It is time for the government to wake up to the sufferings of street children. Firstly, the government needs to collect reliable data regarding street children and seriously look into fixing the glaring problem of homelessness in Dhaka. It is shocking that while the government has been obsessed with its megaprojects, such a basic yet devastating issue has remained practically ignored.
In relation to the dengue problem, the government should establish medical centres in every ward of both the city corporations in the capital to provide free dengue tests and primary treatment, while spreading word about them among street children. Additionally, if any of these children become seriously ill, they should be referred to specialised hospitals and provided treatment free of cost.