Houseflies couldn’t have it any better
Posted on July 4th, 2017


On 28 June, Maithripala Sirisena as the President of our country, visited the Negombo District Hospital. His photo, looking helpless as perhaps as much as he felt, standing next to a bed with two young dengue patients around five-six years old, made front page news. Subsequently it was reported that following his directives, the staff, and facilities to treat dengue patients in this hospital were increased within 48 hours by using the strength of the Sri Lankan Army.

The Army had not only constructed a temporary ward complex, providing with all necessary amenities including bedding, but has also started repairing the existing wards. The additional personnel needed, which includes doctors and nurses, to meet the surge of dengue patients is again provided by the Army.

This, however, is hardly the solution to the rise in dengue epidemic, especially as Negombo is not the only place to be affected by the disease. Furthermore, there is nothing in his directive to curb the epidemic, which should be the most important objective.

In a media seminar by Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition on 9 September 2009, dengue was identified as a complex disease that has a high morbidity but with a relatively low mortality rate. Death results if the dengue hemorrhagic fever is not properly managed.

Dengue epidemics rise with rainfall, as the aftermath leaves warm, damp places for breeding. Hence, dengue cases begin to rise within the month. Thus as highlighted by the seminar, the first epidemic period can be expected with the south-western monsoon rains; the second with the north-eastern monsoons.

The first dengue outbreak in Sri Lanka was in 1965, but the first major epidemic reported was in 1989 and became a notable disease in 1996. Since 2,000, approximately 5,000 cases were been reported annually. The years 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009 however saw dengue cases peaking well over 5,000. In 2009, the numbers reached over 25,000.

As notes, the dengue case numbers have been thus yo-yoing until 2016. By 2010, the number topped 30,000, but dipped in 2011. Whilst in 2012 and 2014 the numbers again surged to exceed 40,000, in the intervening years the numbers plunged and in 2015, the total figure was 29,777. The worrying matter was that though the numbers went up and down alternatively, the overall trend line continued upwards.

The 2009 seminar identified the leap in numbers was due to changing lifestyles, traditional water storage practices, unreliable water supply and poor garbage disposal/collection, which all amounts to increase in mosquito breeding grounds. The high-risk areas identified were Colombo, Kandy, Kalutara, Gampaha, Batticaloa, Matara, Trincomalee, Kurunagalla, Hambanthota, Matale, Ratnapura, and Kegalle. referring to studies in Singapore speculates global warming might also have something to do with the fluctuating, yet increasing numbers. Apparently, the incubation period of the mosquito shortens beyond 25 degrees centigrade. This translates into more mosquitoes.

However, since 2016, the numbers have been only surging rapidly, upwards. The total number of cases reported in 2016 been 54,945 cases – a significant rise from 2015. In 2017, according to the Epidemiology Unit’s updates on 30 June, during these six months alone, there has been suspected 71,298 dengue cases reported from all parts of the Island. Approximately 42.76 per cent of this overall figure is from the Western Province.

If this situation remains unchecked, this might be the year that dengue cases might top 100,000 in Sri Lanka. All these years, among many other factors such as changing environment and mutation of new strains, the main cause contributing to dengue epidemics has been the increasing urban population and its associated challenges. However, the mercurial rise since 2015 is more because of the functioning of local governments grinding to a halt.

Like the fall of dominos, these unrelentingly increasing numbers are another consequence of not holding local elections. As such, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, who assumed the responsibility of President and Prime Minister of our country, promising not just governance, but good governance, is directly answerable and responsible for this mess. They have correctly sensed the public sentiment effected by the many controversies surrounding their government. The fallout from almost all trade unions – from the top professionals to student bodies – is not helping the situation. The stern lectures from the venerable Asigiriya prelate and venerable Bellanwilla Thera (who publicly castigated the government whilst President Sirisena was seated in the audience) and the statement issued by the Ramanna Nikaya have further discredited this government.

President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe are correct in asserting that the public is distancing from the government. Yet, instead of correcting course and winning the confidence of public, they have opted so far to avoid holding local elections, which is overdue by almost two years. In that respect, Mahinda Deshapriya as the Elections Commissioner is also responsible. He was once a popular figure for the tough stance he took against election violations. Violators, he promised, will be shot in the head. Today, he cuts a pathetic figure as he twiddle thumbs waiting for the green light to hold the elections.

The beauty of the democratic system is that it taps into human greed for power and propels people to perform. This is amply demonstrated in the current situation.

Today, the local governments are run by salaried officials. Whether they perform or not, they are paid their dues at the end of every month and enjoy their perks throughout. Thus, we no longer see vital functions such as clearing drains, spraying mosquito breeding places and other dengue prevention programmes taking place.

Mosquitoes & multiple entry visas…

In the aftermath of the Meethotamulla tragedy, no citizen will allow a single garbage bag to be dumped in his backyard. The local officials have simply shrugged their shoulders and let garbage pile in heaps along roadsides. These are ‘vandalized’ by crows, dogs and the likes. As refuse is thus dragged out of bags and scattered all over, breeding grounds for mosquitoes increases. If an election was close by, all these would be collected and cleared.

Instead, we hear absurd proposals to import mosquitoes that predate dengue-causing mosquitoes. The French are thinking of introducing a vaccine, which is undoubtedly music to certain pharmaceutical corporations. Atul Keshap is busy showing solidarity with Muslims that is not echoed by his own president. It is as paradoxical as Gnanasara Thera being granted a multiple entry visa to the USA, when Narendra Modi before his premiership was not, due to his alleged role in racial riots against Muslims.

The fact that Keshap chose Batticaloa to reiterate his preoccupations on accountability over issues that are almost a decade old is ironic indeed. Batticaloa might have celebrated being the first district to be landmine-free, but it is today a dengue hotspot. None of the other civil societies, that are emotional wrecks over these alleged human rights violations apparently committed by our forces during the last phase of the war against terrorists, have picked up on the tragedies brought on by this dengue epidemic.

These entities, who have never been shy to comment on our internal matters or insist we adapt their recommendations without reservations, are very silent on this particular issue that is nothing less than a gross violation of human and humanitarian rights. This is so because; the current epidemic is an exacerbation due to pure governmental negligence.

The Island editorial on 27 June 2017 prove with statistics that more than the general public, it is the State institutions and religious institutions who are the worst culprits. According to the National Dengue Control Unity’s last year’s study, “About 8.3 per cent of 133 religious institutions which were inspected had mosquito larvae. The larvae detection percentages for other places are: construction sites 6.6%, public places 6.6%, factories 5.9%, cemeteries, bus depots, markets etc 4.7%, state institutions 4.0%,private institutions 3.5%, schools and other educational institutes 3.4% and houses 2.7%.”

Current menace

People on the other hand are consciously separating their garbage as perishable and non-perishable, as directed by the government.

Furthermore, since the Meethotamulla tragedy, more people are making responsible choices and are increasingly refusing polyethylene. Supermarkets are also supportive and awards additional loyalty points for all reusable carriers.

The government on the other hand is not doing the needful as demanded by the hour such as disposing garbage responsibly. For the past few weeks, the perishable refuse has been collected sporadically. What is done with it is unknown. The non-perishables, as noted above, are stagnating. Instead, the government is preoccupied with matters they do not have a mandate for such as introducing a brand new constitution to us, which threatens to undermine our identity and the very values we hold as decent.

This leaves the people utterly helpless. Just how many in the urban areas can claim a garden space enough for a compost hole or to build a fire to burn the non-perishable? Day by day, the areas around them are getting more and more polluted.

Mosquitoes just happen to be the current menace. The flies are invading households in swarms and not as discreetly as mosquitoes.

Flies are definitely emboldened by their superior numbers as nothing deters them even to zap right across the face. Unlike mosquitoes, flies are not picky about their landing pads. They find doggy poo just as enticing as that plate of rice. There is hence a real danger that the next epidemic might be much worse than dengue.

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