Mosquito-borne dengue fever is exacting a devastating toll on South Asian countries this year. Bangladesh is grappling with a staggering number of deaths, while Nepal is witnessing the spread of cases into new regions. Experts attribute the worsening outbreaks to the far-reaching effects of climate change. Rising temperatures and prolonged monsoon seasons are creating ideal breeding conditions for disease-carrying mosquitoes, leading to a surge in dengue cases. This global health concern has prompted authorities to take urgent measures to contain and treat the disease, as the World Health Organization (WHO) warns of its pandemic potential.
Bangladesh’s Dengue Crisis
In Bangladesh, 2023 has proven to be the deadliest year for dengue since its first recorded epidemic in 2000. Official figures show that at least 691 people have succumbed to the disease, with over 138,000 reported infections. This alarming death toll far surpasses the previous year’s record of 281 fatalities. A lack of adequate prevention measures has allowed the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito to proliferate throughout the country. Experts warn that the risk of further infections remains high, particularly during the monsoon season from June to September when mosquitoes thrive in stagnant water.
Kabirul Bashar, an entomologist and zoology professor at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka, emphasizes that the climate conditions in Bangladesh are now conducive to the widespread breeding of Aedes mosquitoes, making dengue a nationwide problem.
Nepal’s Growing Struggle
Meanwhile, Nepal, which first recorded dengue in 2004, is grappling with at least 13 dengue-related deaths and more than 21,200 cases in 75 out of 77 districts this year. Experts warn that 2023 may match the previous year’s toll of 88 deaths and 54,000 cases. Dengue’s incidence and spread have been rapidly increasing nationwide, with rising temperatures causing cases to emerge even in cooler autumn months. The disease has now reached higher mountain districts that had previously been untouched, baffling experts with its shifting patterns.
For instance, the city of Dharan in eastern Nepal has been particularly hard-hit this year, with dengue cases rising exponentially, overwhelming hospitals and ambulances. This city of over 160,000 residents experienced a peak of 1,700 dengue cases per day in late August.
The Role of Climate Change
According to WHO, dengue is on the rise globally due to various factors, including global warming. Rising temperatures create more favorable conditions for mosquitoes, contributing to the disease’s spread. Additionally, factors such as human movement, urbanization, and sanitation issues play a role in the increased prevalence of dengue.
In July, WHO highlighted that unusual rainfall patterns in Bangladesh, combined with high temperatures and humidity, had facilitated mosquito population growth across the country. Longer monsoon seasons and erratic rainfall have also provided more breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Fiercer floods, exacerbated by heavy rains and melting glaciers driven by climate change, are further fueling the spread of dengue.
The Call for Action
The Bangladeshi government has acknowledged climate change as a key driver behind the worsening dengue outbreak. Saber Hossain Chowdhury, the prime minister’s special envoy on climate change, has emphasized the need for a national plan to adapt the health system and prevent diseases like dengue from turning into major disasters.
Effective control of mosquito breeding, public awareness campaigns, and symptom management are essential measures to combat dengue, as there is no specific cure. In Dhaka, authorities are actively spraying insecticides to eliminate mosquitoes and imposing fines for breeding sites found. Mayor Atiqul Islam stressed the importance of community cooperation and vigilance.
In Nepal, the government faces the challenge of controlling dengue in diverse settings, from garages to remote corners of houses. Civic engagement and awareness are crucial for controlling the spread of the disease, according to Meghnath Dhimal from the Nepal Health Research Council.
Civil society and development organizations are also stepping in to combat dengue. The International Red Cross is actively involved in raising public awareness, procuring testing kits, and increasing the availability of platelets used in blood transfusions. However, the financial burden on affected families remains a significant concern, with medical expenses for dengue patients predicted to exceed $91 million in 2023.
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Source: VOA News