The blame game goes on
Have a chat with anyone today. They
will either know of someone who has been in hospital
with dengue or themselves been a victim of this disease.
Why is it that Sri Lanka which has
been battling this disease since the 1990s is still
unable to control it and assure the public that the
number of dengue cases and deaths has come down?
In the first quarter of this year (January
to March), an unusually large number of suspected dengue
fever and dengue haemorrhagic fever cases (2,821 cases
and 7 deaths) had been reported, amounting to a three-fold
increase when compared to the corresponding period of
2005, according to Epidemiology Unit statistics. The
Western Province has accounted for 54% of the total
caseload while the districts of Ratnapura 7%, Kandy
7%, Matara 6%, and Kurunegala 5% have shown a substantial
A mother of two children, aged 12
and nine, had this traumatic experience this year. "In
February my son who is nine was down with dengue and
had to be in hospital for five days while my daughter
got dengue in April and was hospitalized for two days.
We thought the worst was over. But to our horror, my
daughter was back in hospital 10 days ago," lamented
Leave aside the anxious moments parents
have to undergo, what of the toll on the children's
health? What of the lost hours, the trauma and also
the cost of dengue? she asks.
When The Sunday Times contacted several
local authorities who should be the primary bodies responsible
for keeping the environment clean, collecting the garbage
and also ensuring as far as possible a mosquito-free
town or city, it was just a question of some of them,
without accepting responsibility, attempting to pass
It seemed the easy way out for them
- pointing the finger at the public as being responsible
for the spread of dengue as they do not eradicate mosquito-breeding
sites. However, the consensus among all the people was
that local bodies were negligent and not carrying out
the tasks expected of them, even though ratepayers faithfully
paid their taxes. Garbage dumps in residential areas,
failure to clean the canals, drains and other pits and
potholes full of polluted water are directly or indirectly
contributing to the breeding of mosquitoes, the public
claims, adding that the local bodies should do regular
checks of homes to see whether people have such areas.
"If they do, then the house-owner should be penalized,"
one irate father said.
"Shramadana campaigns should
be conducted and awareness programmes implemented in
each Public Health Inspector's area to prevent the menace
of dengue," explained Dr. K.S. Saranajeewa, Medical
Officer of Health (MOH) of the Kotte Municipal Council.
"In addition, in Beddagana, a
special project is being implemented for garbage collection.
Under this recycling project, people in the area are
provided with compost bins to which they can put the
kitchen waste while door-to-door garbage collection
is carried out for tins, containers, bottles and polythene
products. This project will be extended to the Nawala
area soon as the dengue rate in this area is rather
high," he said.
The MOH of Dehiwala Mount Lavinia
Municipal Council who declined to be named said that
usually when there is an outbreak of dengue fever during
June, July and August and once again in November and
December, the Epidemiology Unit reports to the MOH to
take necessary action such as clean-up programmes and
awareness campaigns before the season starts.
"We have given the residents
in the area a leaflet informing them of a date on which
we would come to their house to collect the containers,
coconut shells, tins etc. We have also launched a one-month
programme where we have deployed 100 volunteers visiting
houses in the area on Saturdays and Sundays to check
if there are any mosquito breeding sites," she
However, when The Sunday Times contacted
several residents in Mount Lavinia, Dehiwela and parts
of Nugegoda, they were unaware of such programmes, with
most complaining that the garbage was never collected
and people had to carry their dirt all over the area
looking for dumping sites.
Asked why spraying activities have
been halted, the MOH said that it is filaria and not
dengue that can be handled this way. "Fumigating
also has bad effects, but if there is a sort of an epidemic
where five or six people in the area have fallen ill,
fumigating will be carried out," she said, adding
that each family has to keep their premises clean. They
do not pay much attention to their home gardens but
expect the PHI to clean their gardens which is impractical.
With regard to garbage, the Additional
Municipal Commissioner of Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia said
the council has deployed two teams consisting of 20
people to carry out the cleaning of drains once a week
and spraying activities once in two weeks. However,
he said that on the part of the public, not much cooperation
is forthcoming and spraying teams are not allowed to
come into their gardens. Despite repeated requests to
issue the garbage to the collectors who come to the
houses, people still dump garbage by the roadsides.
"We clean the garbage on the
roads daily so that the dengue mosquitoes would not
breed, but there are instances where people tend to
throw garbage on to the roads even after cleaning activity
is done," he said. "People should look out
for damaged drainage pits and ponds in their home gardens
since these are possible mosquito breeding grounds."
Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam, Chief Medical
Officer, Public Health Department of the Colombo Municipal
Council said that several measures were implemented
to control the dengue epidemic, giving special attention
to school-based-mosquito-control activities during the
1st quarter and the early part of the 2nd quarter.
"An awareness programme was conducted
on March 16 at the New Town Hall auditorium, and was
attended by more than 350 students and teachers from
63 schools. The participants were educated on the disease
and its spread and their role in controlling this disease.
Following this awareness programme, a school shramadana
campaign and a house-to-house search-and-elimination
campaign were conducted in a 250 metre area around the
schools on March 31. The students were instrumental
in this house-to-house search programme and the delivery
of the message to the householders, requesting them
to inspect the house and garden to remove potential
mosquito breeding sites," he said.
"The 'Zero Breeding Site' programme
was initiated from May 2 to 27, during the extensive
dengue control month, to clean up the high-risk areas
of dengue mosquito breeding sites and to reward and
motivate the households with a clean environment. High
risk areas by road were identified by the CMC Epidemiology
Unit following analysis of the reported dengue cases
from 2003. This programme included house-to-house visits,
identification of breeding sites and on-the-spot education,
penalties and rewards for the householders. Due to the
evident success of the programme this campaign was continued
to the next month as well," he added.
Meanwhile, the Director of the Lady
Ridgeway Hospital, Dr. R. Wimal Jayantha told The Sunday
Times that there is a slight increase in the monthly
statistics of the dengue patients admitted to the hospital.
According to him, a patient with dengue
fever may indicate different symptoms as there are many
types. "There can be dengue fever with no symptoms
at all. Also there can be dengue fever which is similar
to viral fever with headaches and body pains but without
internal haemorrhage. Another type is dengue with haemorrhagic
signs -- bleeding from the gums, vomiting, patches,"
However, he said that one needs to
be cautious of Dengue Shock Syndrome.
- High fever - up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit
- Severe headache
- Retro-orbital pain - pain behind the eye
- Severe joint pains
- Muscle pains
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- General weakness
- Children get non-typical symptoms
Where does the mosquito breed?
Dengue mosquitoes breed in stored, exposed water
collection systems. The favoured breeding places
Barrels, drums, jars, pots, buckets, flower vases,
plant-pots, tanks, discarded bottles, tins, tyres,
water coolers and places where rain water is collected.
How does dengue spread?
Dengue is spread through the bite of an infected
Aedes Aegypti mosquito. The mosquito gets the
virus by biting an infected person. The first
symptoms of the disease occur about 5-7 days after
the infected bite.
Avenue at Kalubowila: A dumping ground
|Complaints ignored, says resident
Although authorities claim they
will take prompt action against those who do not
heed notices to clean up their premises, my repeated
complaints to the Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia Municipal
Council about an overgrown land in the neighbourhood
have been ignored, complained a resident of Kalubowila
to The Sunday Times.
"When I called the Health Ministry they
were clueless about what I was talking about and
then I was asked to contact the Dehiwela-Mount
Lavinia Municipal Council. When I complained to
them, some medical officer there promised that
they would come and have a look. But it has been
one and half months since I have complained but
to date nothing has been done. From the way it
is going I don't think any action will be taken
because everyone keeps passing the matter to others,"
She was upset that her body was covered with
red patches due to mosquito bites and concerned
that more than herself, a large number of children
who come to her house for elocution classes in
the evenings are in danger.