Dengue cases in the Philippines had already risen to more than 229,736, and according to the Department of Health (DOH) from January 1 to August 17 this year, deaths resulting from Dengue had already hit 958.
This sudden increase in dengue cases has now led the DOH to declare a national dengue epidemic last August 6. The move aimed to mobilise its regional offices to increase its monitoring, management and response on the said health problem, and includes health promotion and advocacy.
The reported cases are said to be the highest rate over the past years and as the said government agency foresees continued surge of dengue cases in the following months.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), contributing factors to this increase specifically for countries in the Asia Pacific include climate change, unclean environments, unplanned urban settlements and rapid urbanisation.
These are common characteristics of a low-middle income country like the Philippines — where majority suffer from poverty and from poor health, and sadly where public health care is yet to be struggled.
These contributing factors are known to be the results of social ills that unfortunately affects almost every poor families in the country. An even more unfortunate fact in the statistics is that, the dengue epidemic affects mostly children from five to nine years old, mostly female.
According to the DOH, the Dengue virus has no treatment yet. It can however be managed early. A vaccine is currently on ban following a controversial implementation of the program. Campaign against dengue implemented nationwide including 5S Strategy, 4 O’clock habit, Dengue fast lane etc.
Thus, in the absence of a treatment and a banned vaccine, the public is once again left to two things — prevention and immediate health care.
According to WHO, dengue mosquitoes mostly breed in containers where people collect water — which is very common in the Philippines due to water shortages brought about privatisation and El Nino. These containers include plastic bottles, coconut shells, tires among others.
The DOH has continuously encouraged communities the 5S strategy in cleaning their surroundings and ensure to do away or get rid of unused containers at home that maybe a breeding space for dengue mosquitoes.
Immediate health care on the other hand require a few important things — awareness, accessibility and prompt response.
Awareness brings people into action. Due to poverty, early symptoms of dengue could just be simply neglected as simple fever, but with awareness, people will be encouraged to have their condition checked.
However, if health clinics and hospitals remain inaccessible, even with awareness, the public will be discouraged. Government readiness and increased budget is therefore crucial to address the dengue epidemic. Health clinics and hospitals should be responsive and proactive in addressing dengue cases.
Once health care becomes accessible to public, people will be empowered and will snow ball into public campaign and movement to address an epidemic. Health stations, professionals and staff, and medicines should then be ready in order to promptly address to patients.
Indeed, the Dengue epidemic is not simply a health problem. It’s a result, if not a reflection of societal ills of a poverty stricken third world country.
Nevertheless, until we act as a community that work together to clean up our social and economic muddle, an epidemic like dengue is here to stay and worse, like a chronic virus.