Amid all the focus on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s another lurking challenge that equally needs our attention, dengue fever.
We have just emerged from the rainy season, which brought persistent and heavy rains compared to recent years.
And with damp conditions came the pesky Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the carrier of the virus.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George reported at the start of November that the Ministry of Health was concerned about the increase in probable and suspected cases when compared to last year.
According to Dr George, there have been 38 hospitalisations so far this year related to suspected and confirmed cases of dengue fever.
In addition, there have been 301 probable cases and eight confirmations of the disease, compared to 92 probable cases last year with no confirmations. No deaths have been recorded over the two years, so far.
He urged Barbadians to take preventative action now even as he reported that health authorities had scaled up house-to-house inspections and weekly fogging exercises in response to the uptick in cases.
A new mosquito complaints hotline (536-4163) has also been established as a result of the increased dengue fever cases.
“What is required is the cooperation of the public to make sure that premises are free of mosquito breeding sites. They should inspect premises one to two times a week, paying close attention to blocked guttering, plant pots, tyres and any other receptacles which may contain stagnant water,” he advised.
Today he repeated his warning, urging householders to take dengue fever prevention and control measures seriously.
The approach our health authorities have taken over the past few years in national efforts to combat dengue fever has been commendable. Our last outbreak was in 2016.
Certainly, the Ministry of Health and Wellness and medical practitioners have been circulating advice through various means.
But now is as a good a time as any to remind Barbadians that combatting this virus really lies at their doorsteps.
Some are still too reluctant and downright defiant when it comes to keeping their personal space clean. People continue to carelessly dispose of refuse of every description — much of which provides ideal opportunities for mosquito breeding.
Our fear is that those who continue to have this cavalier attitude to public health continue to place us all in danger.
If Barbadians continue to keep their environment nasty and refuse to eliminate mosquito-breeding sites the efforts of the health authorities will have very little effect. Preventing the spread of diseases like dengue requires action by every single citizen.
Failure to take timely and aggressive action may well prove right the dire prediction of the experts—that if the authorities do not take necessary steps to control the Aedes mosquitoes immediately, there might be a surge in the number of dengue patients, which would pose a serious danger in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
So at the height of the Christmas season as everybody spruces up, paints up and changes furniture and curtains, we ought to spare more than a thought to our gutterings, drains, plant pots, old tyres and other containers that are popular breeding grounds for mosquitos.
A nation that has been vigilant against one deadly virus may yet face a blue, blue Christmas by taking our eye off another germ, and the pesky insect that carries it.