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How our dengue crisis is connected to climate change

  • Published at 12:03 am September 8th, 2019
Dengue ward, hospital
Are we equipped to handle this? MEHEDI HASAN

The mosquito-borne disease continues to take its toll, but there are ways to fight it

The variation in climate -- humidity, temperature, and rainfall -- will very likely have several health consequences.

For instance, higher temperatures can manipulate the reproduction and survival of the infective agent within the vector, thereby, further influencing disease diffusion in areas where the vector was previously present.

The ecology and transmission dynamics of vector-borne diseases are complex. Vector-borne diseases are transmitted by insects -- mosquitoes and ticks that are sensitive to temperature, humidity, and rainfall.

Almost a decade ago, dengue took its first heavy toll all over the country. Affected people suffered due to the lack of medical facilities in both government-run and private hospitals, and clinics.

Over the years, Bangladesh has been quite successful in treating dengue-affected people. Even then, there is a lack of resources -- be they adequate space to accommodate patients, or proper supply of medicine and care -- which may lead to casualties.

Many organizations, including the government, have been incessantly providing anti-dengue campaigns to warn people about dengue.

But the awareness level is very poor in the small towns and rural areas of our country, leading to more lives being lost to this disease. Children are easy victims of dengue attacks, and also succumb to the ailment more than adults.

Mosquito-borne diseases can spread due to a lack of proper faeces management. A survey of 6,000 households (UNICEF Report, 2018) implies that in urban poor areas, more than 53% of the latrines and pit latrine with slab are without a lid and water-seal.

Only 5% of the latrines are connected to an open-drain with flush or pouring water, and 1.4% of pit latrines have a ventilation system.

In general, by reducing freshwater supplies, climate change affects sanitation and lowers the efficiency of local sewer systems, leading to amplified concentrations of pathogens in unprocessed water.

This then becomes the breeding ground for mosquitoes -- mosquito larvae get developed in such places, which may in turn create mosquito-borne diseases once it bites humans.

Apart from that, numerous diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes (chikungunya, dengue, and yellow fever), sand flies (leishmaniasis) and ticks (Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis) may also be amplified by climate change.

The prevalence of dengue fever in the capital and elsewhere appears to be a common feature at the advent of the monsoon, but there is hardly any effort on part of the authorities to fight its outbreak.

Frequent reports have shown that mosquito-borne diseases have lately taken a serious turn in many parts of the country, including Dhaka.

In Dhaka alone, there are reports of hundreds of people suffering dengue attacks, a majority of whom have been hospitalized. The situation has been described as alarming.

To tackle such a situation, some steps ought to be taken. They include taking measures to resolve environmental hazards, the provision of safe water and planning for preservation, the improvement of health care services, and the maximization of the public utility services and their equitable distribution. The application of education on primary health care, environment, sanitation would also play a key role. 

Shishir Reza is an Environment Analyst and Associate Member of Bangladesh Economic Association.