Roundtable Discussion on Dengue Response: Uniting efforts for a resilient future
Facing a serious dengue outbreak, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Bangladesh together with UNICEF organized a dialogue to assess the situation, step-up efforts to contain the spread, and unite for a collaborative approach.
In the wake of a critical dengue situation, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to organize a dialogue among key stakeholders on the ongoing dengue response in the country. Chaired by Mr. Zahed Maleque, MP, Minister, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the discussions called upon relevant line ministries and authorities to reflect over the initiatives to control the spread of Aedes mosquitos and to step up the efforts to contain dengue.
A public health crisis cutting across the nation
The dengue outbreak has spread to 64 districts, starting almost a month earlier than previous years. Worldwide climate change is exacerbating the spread of vector-borne diseases like dengue, directly impacting the lives of children and adults. In Bangladesh, according to DGHS, one out of every five patients is a child below the age of 15, which highlights their vulnerability to the outbreak. Warmer temperatures due to climate change can accelerate mosquito development, biting rates, and the incubation of the disease within a mosquito.
The government has responded with various initiatives to control this mosquito-borne disease, including awareness campaigns, elimination of mosquito breeding sites and developing an age and geographically segregated dengue database of cases and deaths. Hospitals across the country have repurposed units for dengue patient care. Awareness campaigns through various government online portals, digital and social media platforms are constantly disseminating information to keep the public informed about the situation and how to take necessary precautions. The Communicable Disease Control under the Directorate General of Health Services, spearheads numerous initiatives to implement comprehensive surveillance activities such as surveys during pre-monsoon, monsoon, and post-monsoon periods.
However, the Government of Bangladesh needs to do more to address the dengue outbreak. To navigate this situation, a consolidated effort of several ministries and departments is imperative. All participants at the discussion agreed on the need for a comprehensive national strategy for dengue prevention and control, driven by inter-ministerial coordination. Collaboration between city corporation authorities and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare can yield a robust community-centered dengue surveillance system, facilitating early detection. Active participation of community leaders in eliminating breeding sites also holds the potential to significantly curb dengue transmission.
Mobilizing resources to protect communities
This year’s dengue outbreak is affecting several countries in South Asia. However, Bangladesh is continuing to record a large number of cases. To support the Government, UNICEF is delivering USD 2.25 million worth of urgently needed support, which includes supplies of testing kits and training of professionals, along with other critical supplies and services in the health and water, sanitation, and hygiene sectors. UNICEF is also intensifying its support by engaging 15,000 religious leaders, community influencers, local elected bodies, adolescent youth groups and volunteers to spread awareness and take actionable measures within their communities. Working together with partners, UNICEF has been supporting the Government in providing technical advice, implementing actions such as campaigns to clean up breeding sites in select areas, and in disseminating life-saving messages which have reached over 50 million people across the country.
“The Government of Bangladesh is taking measures in response to the ongoing dengue situation. And, more needs to be done, particularly for children who are most vulnerable to this virus,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh.
“We programmed our core resources to put the dengue response as a priority. We must all work together to break the cycle of transmission and ensure that children and their families have a safer and healthier future.”
Bangladesh's approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic underscored its capacity to control and combat epidemics, showcasing the nation's ability to make coordinated efforts and effectively disseminate instructions. For this, the discussions also looked at other examples in South Asia, where countries have managed to control the spread of dengue.
For instance, successful approaches such as the Kolkata model was highlighted, wherein the City Corporation's strategy focused on waste segregation, and proactive cleanliness and vector control drives to control the dengue outbreak.
Experts at the roundtable highlighted that changing people’s behaviors also plays an important role in reducing the number of cases, which will in turn result in better patient management.
The participants collectively emphasized the importance of addressing the issue that why, despite having right knowledge about the disease, the community is not practicing the recommended measures, understanding the causes, and taking actions to resolve the issue. This together with a multisectoral approach, combined with international collaboration, is key to bringing the situation under control and containing the dengue outbreak. It will not only pave the way for innovative solutions and proactive preventive measures led by community people, but also ensure that no community is left behind. UNICEF remains steadfast in its commitment to support the government's relentless efforts in this crisis.