As the week long national dengue prevention week ended yesterday, stinging figures were given by the Epidemiology Unit. It said that from January to March this year, 13,275 suspected dengue cases were reported from all parts of the country. About 52.50% of dengue cases were reported from the Western Province. The Unit said, it was essential to remove possible mosquito breeding sites and advised patients to seek medical attention in the event of fever by day three of the illness.
The Health Ministry said countrywide cleaning campaigns on identified mosquito breeding sites were carried out. It said awareness programmes were also conducted out with the aim of eradicating the dengue epidemic before the monsoon comes in the next few months. The Ministry said it hoped to check more than one million premises by deploying 3,100 teams of officials coordinated by the National Dengue Prevention Programme and the Presidential Task Force on Dengue Fever.
How successful this dengue prevention programme was will be known in the coming weeks and months but city and urban residents say that the main culprits are Municipal or urban Council authorities who appear to be failing miserably in their public duty to clear garbage, clean drains and other breeding sites. President Maithripala Sirisena in a talk last Sunday urged Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the cabinet to ensure that state institutions including those run by local councils functioned more efficiently using the latest technology and other creative methods. But over the past few decades the attitude in most state departments and institutions has been irresponsible or lackadaisical. They are known as public servants but most of them behave like lords and masters especially when poor people come to the institutions sometimes from distant areas. Thus the tragedy is that the public service has today become a heavily politicized government service. We hope the President, the Prime Minister and the national government will succeed in their mission to transform state institutions and make them more people-friendly, enterprising, innovative and creative. If not they should be handed over to efficient private sector enterprises because the priority is service to the people.
As revealed in the latest figures, the Western Province is the worst offender and the worst affected by dengue. Western Province Chief Minister Isura Devapriya told a meeting in Kotte on Thursday that by next year there would be no garbage dumps in the province. He said high technology would be used to convert the garbage and turn waste into something valuable. We hope the government keeps such promises. Otherwise most of the leaders will end up in the garbage dumps of history, as did the leaders of the former regime.
With the Zika virus – a deadlier mosquito-borne disease which leads to the birth of children with brain problems -- spreading across some 39 countries mainly in South America, Sri Lanka while being alert to possible Zika cases needs to give more priority to the battle against dengue. For instance the government needs to direct state television channels run with public funds to give prime time status to dengue awareness or prevention. These channels at present give their prime time to mega tele-dramas most of which, literary critics say are unrealistic and not in line with the hallowed culture and traditions of this country. The state TV channels might say they make big profits from these tele-dramas but making profits by corrupting moral values is a questionable approach. If the state TV channels give prime time to health and education awareness programmes the private channels also might follow.
We also appeal to patriotic citizens. Whatever the government or the local councils do or fail to do, the citizens themselves need to ensure that their houses and gardens do not have any breeding sites for dengue mosquitoes. If millions of families do this in a spirit of civic consciousness the dengue menace will lose its sting.