By Shahid Dastgir Khan
The history of Dengue mosquito virus goes back over two hundred years and up to half a million are affected by the virus globally and hospitalised every year. The virus is active in hundred and ten countries in Asia and South America and takes the life of between 10 and 20 000 every year across the globe.Successive governments in Pakistan have failed to raise awareness effectively to counter the return or spreading of the virus knowing full well the months of the year that is August to October in which it is more likely to be spreadalthough the preventive measures are so widely circulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO). There is simply no excuse for this neglect in preparing in advance rather than reacting to the recurrence of the spread of Dengue fever.
This year alone 13 800 cases and 35 deaths have occurred and alarmingly 12 800 were in Karachi. Last week 178 new cases were reported in Sindh whereas in Punjab there were 32 cases of which the highest was in Rawalpindi 16 followed by Lahore 8 new cases. It is true that every two to three years there is an outbreak of dengue, but most countries are prepared in advance, take preventive measures including raising awareness extensively in the areas likely to be affected whereas Pakistan badly lacks preparation resulting in a much higher number of cases and most of the cases still go unreported. According to WHO, the overall risks at the national level remains high. It is a sad state of affairs in that a robust system is still missing thus making it difficult to stop the outbreak and keep a track of non-reported cases. This compares with the risk of dengue fever being low at the global level,despite the support from WHO in providing advice and support such as posters, flyers, banners, mosquito fogging equipment and brochures for distribution in schools, at work and public places.The local administration and health authorities fail to discharge their duty properly to the public, particularly to the poor localities resulting in some 50 000 or more dengue cases in Pakistan alone out of half a million globally hospitalised.
It should never come to so many deaths and such a high number of cases of dengue fever, if genuine attention is paid to preventing and steps were taken including reducing mosquito habitat, getting rid of or covering standing water and basic good hygiene. Insensitivity, lack of competence, corruption and ignorance combine to play havoc with the lives of poor Pakistanis whilst the rich, powerful and the privileged carry on with their luxurious lifestyle unconcerned and mostly unaffected by the potentially life-threatening virus. It is the duty of the government to provide facilities and to protect the lives of all its citizens.
The other troubling cases are of dog bites in Pakistan. In most civil societies, issues that dominate an election are the economy and health and politicians fight hard to persuade the electorate on these issues to win elections, not so in Pakistan, where the politics is dominated by the rich and influential, feudalsand industrialists who try and sell to the public lofty promises of poverty alleviation and better employment opportunities, but do not fulfil these nor are they concerned with the health of the nation and spread of diseases.
It really would be unthinkable in any civil society that people should die including children of dog bite due to unavailability of rabies vaccine. As of last week, on average there would be 26 cases of dog bite in the Sindh province, where 23 people have died this year and in Karachi up to 30 people are hospitalised daily due to dog bite incidents. The Sindh government has failed miserably to address this alarming situation, for example six years ago there were 2500 cases reported of dog bite compared to 8500 this year. It is therefore a complete disregard for human life that a vaccine is not available which can save lives which are lost completelyunnecessarily . It should not be difficult to set up training centres for neutralising dogs or to remove stray dogs from streets, neighbourhoods and villages, but politicians are not concerned to solve the problem.
It is an irony that recently most of the time on television talkshows has been consumed discussing Moulana Fazlur Rehman’s march towards Islamabad and sit in (dharna) and the effect of rise and fall of platelet count of convictedex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his departure to London for medical treatment. In fact, on the day he was being air lifted by private ambulance en route to London via Qatar, numerous dog bite, dengue and polio caseswere being reported in the media. One of the very unfortunate cases was that of a young boy named Hasnain who in a critical condition was shifted to Jinnah Hospital Karachi, after being bitten by a dog in Larkana.Many others were not lucky enough even to receive treatment for want of vaccine or medication because their crime was poverty. No reference was made by any political leaders of these tragic cases and the television viewers were repeatedly alerted to updates on Nawaz Sharif by news alertsand breaking news.
It is the same old tragic stories repeated year after year, but no one in the corridors of powers seems to care about the poverty stricken sections of the population who’s voice remains unheard and they continue to suffer in silence with no sign of things getting better for them.
(The writer is solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales, political analyst and ex-trustee/ council member of Anti Slavery International UK. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgFacebook: Shahid Dastgir Khan. Twitter: @Sdk184)