Dengue and battle against it rage on
By Sachitra Mahendra and Asif Fuard
Even while the death toll from dengue keeps rising, top health officials and politicians continue to express contradictory views over the use of BTI -- a dengue controlling bacteria -- obtained from Cuba or from other countries to fight the deadly epidemic.

Although the government is more or less decided about importing BTI from Cuba, top health officials insist that public awareness on the need to maintain an environment free from mosquito breeding sites is a better option.

Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva said that BTI usage was not cost effective while Science and Technology Minister Tissa Vitarana said BTI was best used on mosquito breeding sites, although the committee he chaired had earlier reported that the use of BTI was not practical.

Prof. Vitarana who had been to Cuba on several occasions had even cited instances where BTI had been successfully used in curbing or eradicating the dengue mosquito.

Meanwhile Dr. Nihal Abeysinghe, the Health ministry's chief epidemiologist who was a member of the committee said they were still collecting data on the use of BTI as a deterrent on the spread of the mosquito larvae.

Science and technology ministry sources said it was JVP general secretary Tilvin Silva who had first suggested obtaining BTI from Cuba. Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam the Colombo Municipal Council's Chief Medical officer said they are agreed on the use of BTI though at the same time a concerted effort on a massive clean up each year was also necessary to keep a close check on the dengue mosquito wreaking havoc again.

"We should conduct a massive clean up during April and October each year. The clean up in April could be linked with the festival season. Unlike the heavy rains, the intermittent rains that fall during this time of the year leave pockets of water which in turn become fertile breeding grounds for the dengue mosquito", he said.

The clean up efforts of the medical officials during March and April this year was somewhat of a failure and a disappointment because the people were preoccupied with elections.

Prof. Tissa Vitarana, a stalwart in the anti dengue campaign reiterates the need to raise people's awareness and motivate them to destroy all possible mosquito breeding places.

'We need not broadcast messages, like keeping the environment clean. It won't make any sense. It's not so much the environment but mosquito breeding places like open containers, bottles, coconut shells, plastic vessels, tyres and gutters must be specifically targeted", the Minister told The Sunday Times.

'What people most importantly need to be aware of are specific places. They can examine these places which would not take them long, a few minutes perhaps. It can be easily done over a weekend", the Minister explained.

'The chances are that getting down BTI could make people neglect their responsibilities of destroying breeding places and keeping the surroundings clean, and also because people may become complacent expecting the bacteria to do all the work. What bacteria can do is very little. Destroying breeding places and not providing any, means quite a lot. Cuba from where we are hoping to import the bacteria is a case in point. Even Cuba did not depend on the mosquito destroying bacteria alone. They had a grass roots level campaign. All Cubans took it upon themselves as a responsibility. Although they were fined at the beginning for negligence, changed attitudes saw no need for it now", Ministry sources said.

Cuba has not reported any incidence of dengue in three years. The Cuban BTI is said to live for about a month. Singapore authorities too are said to spot fine anyone who failed to destroy dengue-breeding sites.

In the current epidemic, which is the worst in Sri Lanka 64 deaths have been reported so far with some 9000 people, mainly children affected by the disease and hospitals packed.

Health Minister Siripala de Silva said the government was considering spot fines for those whose gardens or premises were providing breeding places for dengue mosquitoes.

Sting in the tale!
Health minister Nimal Siripala de Silva this week declared that opposition politicians including the media were trying to blow 'out of proportion' the dengue issue.

Minister de Silva told The Sunday Times that there was no need for the the dengue issue to be magnified unnecessarily nor to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

He said that the standard of health in Sri Lanka was far better than in the other Asian countries and when compared with India where 950 Dengue related deaths were reported in Sri Lanka only some 60 deaths had been reported so far.

He said the government was doing its best to eradicate the dengue menace. Minister de Silva said a solid waste system was one of the steps being contemplated by the government to eradicate this disease.

He said that a team of officials was going to Cuba for research on this disease though he believed that the introduction of BTI was not a cost effective method.

'Public cooperation and awareness of the dangers of dengue will help prevent the spread of this disease', the Minister said. He said legislation was being prepared to impose spot fines on offenders who do not keep their premises or gardens clean.

Responding to a question as to how the government was going to fund the dengue campaign, he said that temporarily it would use funds from the malaria campaign.

"A new committee is going to be appointed to look in to the dengue problem with the expenditure amounting to nearly Rs. 50 million", Minister de Silva said. A debate on the dengue menace was held in parliament following a proposal by UNP parliamentarian Jayalath Jayawardene who called on the government to take all necessary steps to control this problem which had now become an epidemic and keeps getting worse by the day.

Top  Back to News  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.