Community leaders come forward to protect at-risk families against dengue
Sheuli Khatun’s arsenal of awareness and messaging stems the spread of the disease in Dhaka
As a new day begins in Dhalpur - a ward in Jatrabari, Dhaka - Sheuli Khatun, a dedicated field supervisor at the Dhalpur Aalo Clinic, gets ready to start her work in the local community. Sheuli's unwavering commitment to her community's health has never been more crucial, especially in the face of the alarming dengue outbreak that has gripped Bangladesh.
"Our current area of focus is dengue, as it has spread all around Dhaka,” she asserts with quiet determination, “My area of work is in Jatrabari, Dhalpur to be precise, both of which have been declared red zones, areas that are at dire risk of dengue infection.”
Sheuli and her team of community volunteers operate in the communities living around the Dhalpur Aalo Clinic - which not only provides essential comprehensive primary healthcare services to local communities, but also serves as a hub for spreading health related awareness among community members. Their relentless efforts, supported by UNICEF, reinforce the critical importance of awareness and community engagement in the fight against dengue.
A constant battle
As of September 2023, the dengue outbreak in Bangladesh has spread to all 64 districts, with over 750 dengue-related deaths reported by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). Additionally, more than 25,000 cases of dengue have been reported among children under the age of 15, which is a huge cause for concern.
Sheuli's words highlight the pressing issues confronting Dhalpur, a densely populated locality grappling with its unique set of challenges. She explains, "In Dhalpur, continuous rainfall leads to water puddles in numerous areas, serving as potential breeding grounds for Aedes mosquitoes." The team's unwavering commitment involves diligent street-level monitoring, organizing cleanup efforts, and preventing any water stagnation within the community.
Sheuli is determined to equip her community with the knowledge they require to protect themselves in the fight against dengue. She acknowledges the challenge, saying, "Many people suffering from dengue do not come to the clinic despite having a fever for 3-4 days because they think it's just regular fever." Prompt action can make all the difference, which is why Sheuli refers such patients to the Aalo Clinic, where patients can seek prompt treatment, get common diagnostic tests done, and all free of cost.
Spreading the message
Sheuli's commitment, however, doesn't stop at the clinic's doors. She is part of a larger effort, with UNICEF as a crucial partner, in spreading awareness and mobilizing the community. Through risk communication and community engagement initiatives, UNICEF is on the ground, planning and coordinating. Community leaders like Sheuli and community volunteers spread life-saving messages far and wide, using every tool in their arsenal: public announcements by miking, distributing leaflets, community meetings and leveraging social media platforms – reaching more than 70 million people with dengue prevention messaging through all these channels.
Armed with pamphlets and hand mikes, Sheuli and her team conduct door-to-door awareness visits and take to the streets riding rickshaws, distributing pamphlets, and using hand mikes for announcements. They also go to a local city corporation school, distributing dengue awareness materials and educating students about methods of prevention.
In the bustling local vegetable market, they engage vendors and customers, with Sheuli emphasizing the community's collective responsibility, stating, "People living in the community also have a responsibility. So, we are trying to get them involved by helping them understand how they can all do their bit to eradicate dengue."
Voices of the faithful
Sheuli and her team forge alliances even within the community's spiritual centers. They collaborate with the Imams, local religious leaders, encouraging them to incorporate dengue prevention messages during public prayers, using the mosque's loudspeakers to disseminate life-saving information. Sheuli underscores the importance, saying, "Since the mosques are community gathering spots, and hence, potential hotspots, it is important for the Imams to disseminate the messages. We speak through them because they are community leaders, and everyone listens to them."
UNICEF has also engaged with the Islamic Foundation of Bangladesh, leveraging their pivotal role in spreading accurate and actionable information about dengue prevention, particularly within mosques and community gatherings. Additionally, UNICEF has engaged young individuals as agents of change within their communities, empowering them to lead the charge in spreading awareness about the importance of preventive measures in reducing the spread of dengue. These initiatives emphasize the holistic approach needed to eradicate dengue, focusing not only on immediate responses but also on building resilience within communities.
A unified front
By joining forces with the Government of Bangladesh and other partners, UNICEF is dedicated to tackling the dengue outbreak head-on, ensuring a safer and healthier future for all.
To protect children and to respond to this public health emergency, UNICEF is also delivering USD 2.25 million worth of urgently needed testing kits, training of professionals, along with other critical supplies and services in the health, water, sanitation, and hygiene sectors. This will enable an immediate response to the crisis but also facilitating long-term planning for dengue prevention and control.
As Bangladesh faces a serious public health crisis, it's clear that the determination of individuals like Sheuli, and the collective efforts of the Government, communities, and organizations like UNICEF, are instrumental in protecting the lives of vulnerable children and communities across the country.