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After Covid-19, Bangladesh faces dengue threat

Health officials on alert to prevent a repeat of last year's record outbreak

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After Covid-19, Bangladesh faces dengue threat

A city corporation worker uses anti-mosquito spray in the Tejgaon area of Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on July 31, 2019, amid the worst outbreak of dengue fever in the country's history. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

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As confirmed Covid-19 cases rise, Bangladesh now faces the threat of a dengue fever outbreak during the monsoon season in a double blow for the impoverished country.

Bangladesh has recorded 22,268 infections and 328 deaths from the novel coronavirus, according to official figures.

Meanwhile, about 331 cases of dengue have been reported across the country, according to the state-run Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). Most patients have been concentrated in capital Dhaka.

Last year Bangladesh experienced its deadliest outbreak of dengue with 101,324 cases and 179 deaths, according to official figures. Independent figures of the dengue death toll were much higher but health officials said the cases could not be verified.

Some 65 government organizations, national and international charities led by US-funded aid group CARE Bangladesh participated in a recent study, “Multi-sectoral Impacts Analysis and Needs Analysis,” which warned that dengue and natural disasters could worsen the Covid-19 crisis in Bangladesh.

The study identified key indicators of risks exposures to Covid-19 including urban critical livelihood vulnerability, demographic and social vulnerability, economic and physical vulnerability, and recurrent disaster vulnerability. It identified the 20 most vulnerable districts out of the total 64.   

The government has taken steps not to repeat the situation of last year, said Dr. Sanya Tahmina, additional director general (planning and development) at DGHS.

“We know both coronavirus and dengue are complicated diseases, so we have taken initiatives early this year, even before Covid-19 struck. Surveys were done and recommendations were sent to related government ministries and agencies for action,” Dr. Tahmina, former director of communicable disease control at DGHS.

The health department carries out three surveys — pre-monsoon, monsoon and post-monsoon — to identify various risk factors for dengue including density of the aedes mosquito, the carrier of dengue fever, she said.

“Due to various reasons including the nationwide shutdown and postponement of industrial and development activities in urban areas due to Covid-19, the density of aedes mosquito was lower. However, the new cases were probably from remaining mosquitoes from the previous year,” Dr. Tahmina said.

Besides distributing testing kits and health guidelines for Covid-19, the government has done the same for dengue testing and medical services. The DGHS has increased the number of entomologists from five to 17 this year to better tackle communicable diseases, she added.

The Local Government Rural Development (LGRD) department has allocated 3 billion taka (US$35 million) for cleanliness and awareness campaigns for Covid-19 and dengue fever, according to a recent government circular.

The funds will be distributed to 16 city corporations and 328 municipalities, while a cleanliness and awareness campaign was supposed to start from May 11, it noted.  

Dr. Barnabas Hasdak, an ethnic Santal Catholic and a government medical officer in Rajshahi district, said that the combination of Covid-19 and dengue poses great risks for people.

“We are concerned that even at a smaller scale dengue pose a threat at a time when health services are grappling with Covid-19. However, government and private health facilities have received testing kits and guidelines for both Covid-19 and dengue,” Dr. Hasdak, secretary (finance) of the Association of Catholic Doctors of Bangladesh, told UCA News.

“It is important to keep people aware about dengue so that they are prepared to tackle it and don’t get panicked.”

Dengue fever is a vector-borne tropical disease carried by female aedes mosquitoes. Usually, patients show symptoms — such as high fever, headache, vomiting and muscle and joint pains as well as skin rashes — two to three weeks after being bitten.

Dengue can be deadly if it develops into hemorrhagic fever, WHO experts warn, adding that an estimated 390 million people are infected annually with the disease.

The same female mosquitoes transmit other serious diseases including chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika.

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