Government warns of dengue and scrub typhus risk on World Health Day

Minister of Health and Gender Dr Mariyam Shakeela has noted an increase in the incidence of mosquito-borne dengue and mite-borne scrub typhus in the Maldives.

In a televised address to mark World Health Day, Shakeela said increased travel, trade, migration and climate change is leading to an increase in insect-borne diseases worldwide.

Dengue fever has become endemic in the Maldives since 2004, she said.

“I am deeply saddened to note that individual level action to control diseases spread by small insects is not being taken. The result is the increase in dangerous diseases such as dengue and scrub typhus and deaths,” said the minister.

There were 680 reported cases of dengue in the Maldives in 2013, a decline from 2006 peak of 2,788 cases, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said.

The year 2011 also saw a relatively severe outbreak of dengue in the Maldives, with fatalities reaching a dozen – a record high in the country’s history. In 2012 there were a total of 1,083 dengue cases in the Maldives. Construction workers face an increased risk, the HPA has said.

Deaths have also been reported from scrub typhus due to failure to seek healthcare and improper diagnosis, epidemiologist at the HPA Dr Aishath Aroona told Minivan News.

The Health Ministry runs a yearly campaign called ‘Madhiri Rulhi Rulhi’ (‘Unfriendly to Mosquitoes’) to limit mosquito breeding during the rainy season.

Waste management and cleanliness are the most effective methods of controlling mosquito breeding grounds, Aroona said.

The Maldives eradicated malaria in 1984, making it the only country in the region to have done so. The last case of mosquito-borne filariasis was recorded in 2003, and the Health Ministry will complete a screening and surveillance project by October to determine the eradication of the filariasis vector, the ministry has said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mosquito-borne dengue has spread from nine to over a hundred countries, making it the most rapidly spreading vector-borne disease. Over 40 percent of the global population is at risk from dengue, the organisation said.

The WHO’s World Health Day campaign this year – ‘Small Bite, Big Threat’ – focuses on the risks of diseases spread by mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and freshwater snails.

The International Federation of Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies (IFRC) has called on governments for a shift in approach, from responding to isolated dengue outbreaks to investing in long-term programmes for behavioral change.

“This can be done by empowering communities with essential knowledge concerning hygiene and environmental sanitation, training and engaging community health volunteers to identify and refer suspected dengue cases and improving community-based disease surveillance,” the IFRC said in a recent report