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Dengue virus ravages impoverished Laos

Silent killer takes a far greater toll than the Covid-19 pandemic

UCA News reporter, Vientiane

UCA News reporter, Vientiane

Updated: August 05, 2020 05:27 AM GMT
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Dengue virus ravages impoverished Laos

Dengue fever spreads quickly among the urban and rural poor who live in unhygienic conditions and near places of stagnant water where mosquitos can breed with ease. (Photo supplied)

Although Laos has managed to contain the spread of Covid-19, another silent killer is taking its toll on the country’s largely disadvantaged population: the dengue virus.

The communist nation’s Ministry of Health says it has recorded more than 4,250 cases this year of the mosquito-borne disease, which is widely known as hemorrhaging fever.

At least nine Laotians have died from dengue fever, the government said in a statement released this week, whereas Laos has had only 20 recorded cases of Covid-19 so far and no deaths.

In capital Vientiane, as many as 974 people have come down with dengue fever, which invariably results in debilitating symptoms for days or weeks and can lead to death if it is untreated.

The rest of the thousands of cases have been reported around the countryside where medical care widely remains rudimentary, which has raised concerns that many people in remote areas of this mountainous nation of seven million might need to resort to less effective traditional forms of treatment.

“With weaknesses in financing, health records, infrastructure and management of health services, medical care in Laos remains inadequate and unevenly distributed,” the international consulting firm Pacific Bridge Medical notes.

“The Ministry of Health aims to achieve universal health coverage by 2025, but according to the WHO, the current health insurance programs only cover 20 percent of the total population,” it adds.

All 18 cities and provinces around Laos have recently reported cases of dengue fever, which is one of the fastest-spreading viral diseases in the country and elsewhere in Southeast Asia such as neighboring Thailand, according to the World Health Organization.

Dengue fever routinely spreads fastest among the urban and rural poor who live in unhygienic conditions and near places of stagnant water where the mosquitos that spread the virus can breed with ease.

In addition, disadvantaged communities often lack ready access to modern remedies, including treatment for dengue fever, for financial and other reasons.

Last year 74 Laotians died of dengue fever and more than 37,000 people were infected with the virus, according to authorities. The number of deaths in 2019 had increased fourfold over the year before despite countrywide efforts to contain the disease.

No figures are available on the rate of infections among the country’s Christians, but most of Laos’ 150,000 Christians, around half of whom are Catholic, are underprivileged even by local standards.

Seen by many communist officials as fifth columnists who practice an alien religion, Christians around Laos, most of whom belong to ethnic minorities, face various forms of discrimination, including severe restrictions on their religious practices.

“Christians must take extreme caution to stay on the good side of the Communist authorities,” observes Open Doors USA, which oversees an international community of Christians who support persecuted believers in more than 60 countries.

“House churches are considered illegal gatherings and must operate in secret. The authorities use information from registered churches, which are government-controlled, and local leaders — mostly Buddhist monks — to put pressure on Christians,” the group adds.

“Christians who have converted from the primary religions — Buddhism and traditional animism — are the most targeted for persecution; they are thought to have rejected their families and communities.” 

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