More needs to be done
Dengue is once again in the news with the
inter-monsoonal rains lashing the country in all its fury. As
usual the wheels of the country’s health administration has
started moving with a flurry of activity aimed at combatting the
epidemic. Dengue campaigns are in full swing with even members
of the Armed Forces co-opted to the task. The fourth National
Dengue Prevention Week is now being conducted islandwide.
Parallel to this another nation wide campaign is on covering
among other places schools and Government institutions for signs
of dengue breeding spots.
According to a news item we carried in our inside pages
yesterday 390,675 places including schools and government
institutions have come under the microscope. It was found that a
staggering 116,496 spots were possible dengue mosquito breeding
grounds. It was also revealed that 22,914 government
institutions comprising 90 percent of all State bodies that were
subject to inspection were guilty of harbouring the dengue
mosquito where the larvae were detected in their premises. What
an indictment? Here we have the government Health Ministry
issuing warnings to the public to keep their surroundings clean
on pain of prosecution while the State itself is found to be the
The story further states that Health Minister Maithripala
Sirisena has called on the National Dengue Prevention Campaign
officers to file cases in courts against the Heads of these
Government institutions for their negligence in this respect. It
also states that a list of government institutions which were
responsible for dengue mosquito breeding places is to be handed
over to the President who is the Head of the Presidential Task
Force on Dengue Prevention. Hopefully this will result in all
government institutions in the country adhering to accepted
environmental standards pertaining to their surroundings
minimising the risk of the spread of dengue.
True, the government institutions may be guilty for such a
lapse. To begin with a majority of government institutions in
the provinces lack basic facilities and are not properly
maintained. Their buildings are more often than not in a run
down dilapidated state and their immediate surroundings squalid
creating the ideal setting for the dengue mosquito. Travelling
into the interior one often comes across a large number of
abandoned government buildings with their vast compounds
overgrown and lying in neglect. Needless to say these provide a
ready haven for dengue mosquitoes.
The Health Minister should first get his colleagues in the
Cabinet who are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of
these buildings to carry out a thorough clean up of these
premises and maintain them continuously in order to ward off the
dengue threat. The Government should lead by example if it wants
the public to follow suit.
Today even the government institutions in the metropolis are
largely in an unkempt state compared to the plush facades of the
private sector establishments. Many buildings are in a derelict
state crying out for repairs and proper maintenance. It is the
same with the large number of schools especially in the Colombo
Central and Colombo North areas whose premises are an eyesore.
Most of them, are in a run down state with broken gutters and
crumbling walls. The Health Minister should ideally tackle the
problem at the root to begin with before venturing into
prosecuting the offenders. He should have taken to task those
responsible for this sorry state of affairs within the State
administration at the very outset itself. It is only then that
the Health Minister will be in a position to deal with the
public. Here too stiff penalties are called for. From the way
people continue to ignore orders in respect of dengue risk the
deterrent appears to be ineffective. Whatever happened to the
laws that were to be introduced to prosecute all those
households who had damaged overhead gutters, another prolific
source for dengue breeding.
As in all other instances the Health Ministry machinery gets
activated only during an emergency such as at present when the
rains have come. Instead it should have a concrete plan to
tackle this and all other epidemics before they get out of hand.
Government institutions and schools are only the tip of the
iceberg. Dengue breeding spots are rampant all over the city
landscape. Garbage piles still go uncollected, polluted canals
and waterways still remain uncleaned. Abandoned property
overgrown with weeds and reclaimed by the elements are there for
all to see cumulatively contributing to the dengue epidemic.
What is therefore needed is a concrete comprehensive plan to
tackle this and all other epidemics before they start spreading.
In this context it is gratifying to note that the President no
less is personally leading the fight against dengue as Head of
the Presidential Task Force on dengue prevention. Hopefully this
would lead to a long-term plan to fight the epidemic.