In 2015, the Philippines reported a staggering number of dengue cases: 169,000, to be exact. This represented an increase of cases by 59.5%. Now, only halfway into the year, we have already seen over 50,000 reported cases. Alarming, given that the rainy season—and thus, dengue season—has yet to truly begin.
This sickness carried by mosquitoes like Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus has long terrorized the Asia Pacific Region. The World Health Organization or WHO’s strategic plan outline for fighting dengue in the region from 2008-2015 noted, for instance, that of the approximately 2.5 billion persons at risk around the world, over 70% were in the Asia Pacific.
This indicates just how important proper information about the disease is in countries like the Philippines. Fortunately, there is actually a specific month for this set aside by the Philippine Department of Health or DOH: June is Dengue Awareness Month in the country.
The Enemy: Describing Dengue
Dengue is a viral sickness characterized by a variety of symptoms. The most common are fever (of varying degrees of severity), rashes, headaches, muscle pains, and joint pains. More severe instances of the illness tend to also present with recurrent vomiting, pain in the abdomen, bleeding, and shortness of breath.
Dengue, particularly severe dengue, can be fatal. However, survival rates are very good for those who get proper medical care early on. According to the WHO, survival rates go up to as much as 99% if a person gets treatment in the early stages of the disease.
This should show that where survival against dengue is concerned, vigilance and suspicion are essential. Keeping an eye on yourself and those around you can help with early detection. If any case appears of reasonable suspicion of infection with the disease, bring the person to the hospital for testing immediately.
Prevention is still the best method of fighting dengue, however. At present, there are 2 main approaches to it. The first and more widely practiced is that of managing the environment to reduce mosquito reproduction and activity. The second is a vaccine.
Campaigns to Destroy Mosquito Breeding Places
In the Philippines, the DOH has been running campaigns of this sort for years. In 2011, for instance, the department launched an awareness campaign built around communal support and participation in its 4S Kontra (Anti) Dengue Strategy – Search and destroy, Seek early consultation, Self-protective measures, and Say no to indiscriminate fogging.
By Search and Destroy, the campaign has focused on ensuring that community members do their part to reduce viable breeding areas for mosquitoes. Water containers are checked and covered, for instance. Puddles that can be drained are drained. ITS (Insecticide-treated Screens) are turned over to the Department of Education for installation in schools.
In other words, active prevention of the virus is achieved by preventing the reproduction and activity of its carrier.
The New Dengue Vaccine
Only this year, however, a new step was taken in the country’s public programme to fight dengue. On the 11th of February, Dengvaxia was launched around the globe, and the Philippines became the first country to offer it commercially.
The vaccine is a product of the pharmaceutical MNC Sanofi Pasteur. It took 2 decades to develop and was launched in the country in recognition of the fact that all of the phases of its clinical development were carried out in the country. Thanks to a 3.5-billion-peso budget set aside specifically for the purpose, the government has already begun a free immunization programme for select Filipinos this year, with a nationwide programme in 2017.
The primary beneficiaries of the current free programme are 4th-grade students from Philippine public schools. Upon reaching the 150,000-children mark, the DOH reported that only 0.16% of vaccine recipients displayed undesirable side effects. These were usually symptoms like headaches and feverishness.
The Plan: Defeating Dengue
Of course, the two methods of fighting dengue above are not exclusive of each other. In fact, the DOH strongly advocates that Filipinos participate in both programmes. Neither the strategy to reduce breeding areas nor the vaccine confer absolute protection from the virus. In other words, Filipinos still need to do all they can to avoid getting infected, even should they take part in either of these programmes.
This month, you can learn and try the many ways to reduce your risks of getting dengue. For example, you can try the following:
- Remove or cover all possible areas with stagnant water. If you happen to live near a large body of water like a lake or pond, try to avoid coming closer to it than you need to.
- Install screens on every window or opening of the house.
- Invest in a good mosquito repellent if you really have no choice but to expose yourself to the insects.
- Get the dengue vaccination.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and full trousers.
You can help not only by doing these things but also by spreading the word. Tell others around you about the ways they can reduce their risks of having this disease. Tweet out the list above, for example. What matters is that you participate in what is a community effort to stamp out one of the longstanding scourges of the country.