Dengue spreads

Pakistan has had to deal with dengue fever almost on an annual basis– with varying degrees of severity0150 since it first spread in the summer of 2011, especially in Punjab, affecting over 20,000 people and causing more than 300 deaths nationwide. Since then the situation has remained largely under control until July this year when cases started propping up first in Sindh, then KP and now Punjab. According to the Dengue Monitoring Cell over 10,000 cases have been reported so far out of which 2,363 are in Punjab, primarily in the Pothohar region. This has now become a full-blown epidemic that could have been easily tackled had appropriate pre-emptive measures been taken when signs started to appear that the virus was spreading. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on Health, Dr Zafar Mirza, the pointman on this outbreak, expects these numbers to increase in the coming weeks which means that hospitals that are already short on beds will be in crisis mode. So far 20 people have died due to the disease and this number will rise if the required treatment is delayed. Dr Mirza is also quite upset over the opposition’s criticism of the government’s handling of the issue, urging it not to ‘politicise a health issue’. Perhaps he is unaware or has chosen to ignore how the PTI, with his boss taking the lead, severely criticised the PML-N when the virus broke out eight years ago, calling the Sharif brothers ‘dengue brothers’.
Now that the shoe is on the other foot the PTI is feeling the heat, unable to effectively address the problem as it goes from bad to worse. The Punjab CM has fired the DC Lahore over her inability to control the spread of the virus. This is a welcome move but some more heads need to roll, preferably more senior people; the Sindh and KP governments should take similar action. Additionally, a public service message campaign emphasising on prevention and treatment should be disseminated accompanied with on-ground drives such as fumigations. Hospitals should be adequately equipped with beds, doctors and equipment where treatment is free of cost and help from private hospitals should also be sought for screening purposes. As it is an annual occurrence one hopes the government learns from its mistakes and takes the next dengue season more seriously.