Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dengue fever spreading in southern Yemen

From IRIN, a new rash of dengue fever cases are spreading throughout southern Yemen.

Outbreaks of mosquito-borne dengue fever in the southern and eastern governorates of Hadhramaut, Taiz, Aden and Abyan have left dozens dead in the past few months, and are claiming an increasing number of lives, according to officials.

On 13 July, local news website, affiliated with the opposition Islah Party, quoted Rabea al-Abd Ba-Musa, head of the Ministry of Public Health & Population’s office in Hadhramaut Governorate, as saying that dengue was spreading rapidly in various districts of the provincial capital, Mukalla.

Twelve people had died since April and 1,442 people had been infected in Mukalla city, Ba-Musa said. He complained of lack of funds to combat the disease.

Abdulbari Dughaish, a member of parliament (MP) from Aden Governorate, said dozens of slum residents in the governorate had died from dengue over the past few months and more than 150 had been infected.

"I receive calls on a daily basis from patients and relatives of the dead seeking help… Many people died at home as they were unable to cover the cost of treatment in hospitals," he said.

Water shortages meant slum residents stored water in uncovered tanks, he said. “This is a primary factor in the spread of dengue, malaria and other vector-communicated diseases."

Taiz and Abyan

According to a November 2009 survey by the Central Lab of the Republican Hospital in Taiz Governorate, 490,000 people (82 percent of the governorate’s estimated 597,000 urban population) were living in environments that exposed them to dengue infection. The survey said 2,000 people had been infected. also reported that hundreds of dengue-infected cases had been discovered in recent weeks in the southern governorate of Abyan; it was suspected that hundreds of other cases had gone undiagnosed.

Dengue fever was first detected in Yemen in the early 1990s and there have been intermittent outbreaks over the years. Common dengue symptoms include high fever, headache, acute pain in the joints and skin rash. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the potentially lethal form of the disease is known as dengue haemorrhagic fever, and causes convulsions, vomiting and bleeding.

There are four primary factors behind the repeated outbreaks of dengue in water-scarce Taiz Governorate, according to Shawqi al-Qadhi, a member of parliament from the governorate: "The fertile environment for mosquito breeding, lack of early diagnosis systems, poor health awareness among citizens and poverty,” he said, adding: "And the poor cannot afford to pay for expensive medicines prescribed by physicians."

He criticized the Public Health Ministry for being unable to curb the epidemic, which most other countries eliminated decades ago.

"The cost of an early diagnosis system is US$9,000-10,000… It’s shameful of the government and its ministry to postpone the provision of such systems from one year to another," al-Qadhi said.

Mixed views on spraying

Lakhdhar Lasour, head of Aden's Public Health Ministry office, said his department had carried out a massive pesticide spraying campaign last month in the governorate's slums.

Attacking the sites of mosquito reproduction was the best way to fight the disease as there was no effective medicine to treat infected people, he told IRIN. "A patient is given only painkillers and fluids until he or she recovers.”

However, Aden MP Dughaish, who is also a member of the parliamentary health committee, said spraying campaigns were inadequate. "It’s possible for spraying to kill flying vectors in the air, but not the Aedes mosquitoes [which causes dengue] in drinking water or inside abandoned vehicle tyres," he said.

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