Fighting the dengue outbreak in Pakistan | Pakistan – Gulf News

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Nobat Saleem
Nobat Saleem, 17, receiving medication outside the hospital as there was not enough space inside for dengue patients. Image Credit: Sana Jamal/Gulf News

Islamabad: In the medical ward usually reserved for 38 patients, there are 17 extra beds with mosquito nets for dengue patients. This was one of three wards abuzz with patients and their worried family members at Islamabad’s major hospital, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS). One of them was Muhammad Umair Khan, 54, who has been tested positive for dengue, which causes sudden high fever, severe headaches and severe joint and muscle pain. “It started with fever and then vomiting,” he said. He is now being treated with intravenous fluid as it is critical to maintain patient’s body fluid due to sudden decrease in disease-fighting white blood cells, said the head nurse at the ward.

In the last 45 days, “at least 5,000 suspected patients visited of which 2700 were confirmed cases. Currently, there are 50 patients admitted in the hospital of them 3 are in serious condition” PIMS spokesperson Dr Wasim Khawaja told Gulf News.

When outbreaks of this magnitude occur, hospitals are often unprepared and the sick do not get adequate medical attention. Umair is one of the fortunate ones who got a place inside because dozes of patients on hospital beds with cannulas attached to their arms are waiting outside the premises for doctors and rooms. “We are visiting the hospital daily since September 19 when my son was diagnosed with dengue. His fever and blood sugar levels are unstable. But doctors say there is no room inside”, Saleem, the distressed father of a young dengue patient, told Gulf News. “We come here every morning and go back by night after treatment.” Saleem says he does not know how his 17-year-old son Nobat Saleem contracted dengue but was infuriated at the ill response of the hospital.

More than 10,000 dengue cases reported

Umair and Nobat are two of those affected by dengue that has gripped nearly 10,013 people all over Pakistan with 20 reported deaths. The disease is expected to rise in the next 10 days, health experts have warned. “During the current year, at least 2,363 cases have been reported in Punjab, 2,258 in Sindh, 1,814 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 1,772 in Balochistan” according to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza.

Urgent measures by government to control dengue

The health department is busy fumigating most affected areas while the federal government is coordinating with provincial health officials to curb the dengue outbreak, according to Dr Mirza. Meanwhile, the Islamabad administration is carrying out a massive clean-up in possible mosquito breeding sites and fumigation on a regular basis, says Islamabad chief commissioner Amer Ali Ahmad. Free medical check-ups and dengue awareness sessions to advise people on prevention and causes are also being undertaken.

Health officials suggest coordinated efforts

The focus should be on prevention and destroying mosquito-breeding sites, as there is no specific treatment or vaccine for dengue fever, said Dr Qaiser Sajjad, secretary-general of Pakistan Medical Association while talking to Gulf News. “The government should immediately identify and clean areas that are breeding ground for dengue mosquitoes. Secondly, there should be enhanced coordination and cooperation between the district, provincial and federal governments for a joint strategy to get rid of the disease.” Precautionary measures are essential by the government to deal with outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria and chikungunya that take place every year after the monsoon season, he stressed. Awareness is key to prevent the disease, he said. “Instead of getting panicky, people need to be vigilant. All domestic water storage should be covered and cleaned and stagnant water in and around home should be removed.” People should ensure cleanliness and spraying activities are regularly taking place in their neighbourhoods.

How technology can be utilised to control dengue?

Since 2010, Pakistan has been frequently experiencing dengue epidemic that has affected nearly 25,000 people and led to more than 350 deaths. When Punjab was hit with its worst dengue outbreak in 2011 that infected more than 21,000 and took 350 lives, a team of scientists developed a system to forecast the disease surge by studying the calling pattern of citizens to a public hotline. It also helped them identify areas that could be a breeding ground for dengue mosquitoes. “Dengue outbreaks, if not contained promptly, can easily spread into an epidemic. Our technology enabled the government to pinpoint and predict hotspots of dengue, raising an early alarm, before they could become an epidemic” Dr Umar Saif, former Punjab IT Board chairman, told Gulf News. Dr Saif, who helped design and introduce the smartphone-based early epidemic warning system in 2012, said: “As the next few days are crucial, the early warning system, to identify and contain the outbreaks, can save many lives.”

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