With fears of the spiralling Coronavirus pandemic occupying our minds, dengue seems to have taken a backseat, especially in terms of our preparedness to fight off the disease.
While we are constantly complaining about our pesky little friends annoying us with their itchy bites and taking solace in playing a game of badminton of sorts, how much are we really doing to eliminate the reasons behind their return before these illusive creatures turn into our mortal enemies?
While the dengue season generally peaks from May, the density of mosquitos in the capital has increased manifold compared to last year—when the country witnessed the worst dengue outbreak in history. But with Culex accounting for majority of the mosquitos, should we really worry about dengue now? Perhaps we should.
According to a report published by this daily, between January and March 16 this year, 263 dengue virus infected patients have been admitted to different hospitals. The number was 73 during the corresponding period last year. This means a nearly four times increase from 2019.
"The trend is concerning," observed Kabirul Bashar, a professor of entomology at Jahangirnagar University.
The study of the Breteau Index (number of positive containers per 100 houses inspected) of Dhaka city by a research team from Jahangirnagar University and Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) revealed an alarming picture of Aedes breeding in the capital with the index registering 20 to 30 points at many of the wards of the two city corporations.
The survey by DGHS found that in DSCC wards the Aedes population is 12 percent, while in DNCC wards it is 10 percent. It goes without saying that this will only increase in the coming days if immediate measures are not taken now to eliminate the mosquito breeding grounds.
"Our focus now—especially between March and May—should be on Aedes breeding source management. Steps should immediately be taken to eliminate these breeding spaces, especially the water containers. Under-construction sites are especially favourable for Aedes breeding, therefore these should get extra focus while conducting anti-Aedes drives".
And according to professor Bashar, this drive should be followed up with insecticide spray during May and June to get rid of whatever Aedes mosquitoes are left. But all these are just words. With the anti-mosquito drives by the City Corporations visibly slowed down, it remains to be seen how much of these suggestions are actually implemented.
However, only counting on the two City Corporations to keep Aedes mosquitos away, especially with the Covid-19 outbreak creating panic among the people, would be wrong. Aedes mosquitoes breed in any fresh-water storage sites, unlike the Culex mosquitoes that breed in polluted water.
Therefore, a lot is up to us in this fight against dengue. We do not need the city corporations to come and clean the water storage spaces or containers inside and around our houses; we do not need the city corporations to come and clean our rooftops and the pretty little gardens we curate that are also favourable Aedes breeding grounds, or do we?
We can choose to be aware and active in this drive against dengue mosquitoes. We can destroy all the Aedes breeding areas that we have around our homes and keep the bushes and shrubs clean; we can make our less-conscientious neighbours aware of the hazards of such spaces and we can inform the right authorities so that appropriate measures can be taken to eliminate those breeding spaces. Or we can simply choose to remain immobile and waste our efforts in blaming the city corporations about our mosquito woes.
With the authorities mobilising their focus and resources to contain the Covid-19, it is only natural that dengue would be priority number two. But then again, dengue can be as fatal as Coronavirus, if not as contagious.
Professor Mahmudur Rahman, former director of IEDCR, suggests that the authorities should strongly consider using Wolbachia—a natural bacteria present in almost 60 percent of insects, including certain breeds of mosquito—as a tool to control Aedes mosquito. According to World Mosquito Programme's research, introducing Wolbachia to Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes can reduce the transmission of the viruses they carry. By releasing Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes, the ability of Aedes to spread dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow-fever viruses can be effectively blocked. And to this day it remains a mystery why, despite experts calling for its use, this method is not being adopted to contain these four deadly Aedes-borne diseases.
Professor Rahman, while stressing on well-planned larvicide and adulticide measures targeting Aedes breeding hotspots to eliminate Aedes mosquitoes, also suggested on testing the effectiveness of the insecticides that are used during the anti-mosquito drives.
And in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak worldwide, the two city corporations must make sure to provide the spray-men along with others involved in the anti-Aedes drive with protective gear so that they are not exposed to the Covid-19 in the line of duty.
And monitoring the effective and timely implementation of the anti-Aedes drives will be crucial in saving hundreds of lives. According to official statistics, 101,354 dengue virus infected patients were admitted to hospitals last year, and 164 people died. And many more cases remain unaccounted for.
To avoid a similar scenario this year, especially because we are facing a bigger, more sinister threat, we—the citizens—instead of simply complaining about the authorities, should play a more proactive role by keeping our house clean, by making sure to destroy all the mosquito breeding ground that are around us, by making other friends and family aware of their duties in fighting off mosquitoes.
We can either choose to remain inactive, or we can join the fight. The question remains, which of the two options are we going to choose?
Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem