The rising number of cases of dengue virus is adding to the anxiety of both the public and healthcare officials
As Lahore struggles to survive a global pandemic, a nasty epidemic rears its head again, pushing the city’s healthcare system to its limits. Dengue virus has begun its yearly round of inflictions, and the exponentially rising number of cases in the city is adding to the anxiety of both the public and healthcare officials.
As the tally crosses 700 and hospitals start filling up with new cases every day, the pressure continues to mount.
Speaking with The News on Sunday (TNS), healthcare officials from two of Lahore’s major public hospitals explain how the local hospitals are preparing to handle the rapidly worsening situation. “We have separate units for dengue patients and are ready to take the load,” says a public hospital representative, anonymously. “Amid an already raging pandemic, we only hope that most patients of dengue fever do not require hospitalisation.”
He says that the dengue virus weakens a patient’s immune system, thus, making them vulnerable to other infections.
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the country’s healthcare system hard. However, the dengue epidemic wasn’t unforeseen. Unfortunately, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s lack of preparedness to contain the spread of dengue virus became the cause for its easy spread.
“There are several steps that may be taken prior to the start of the dengue ‘season’ – July through October – before cases begin to pile up,” says Dr Qasim Awan, a key member of the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA), Punjab. “Fumigation is crucial for timely curtailment of the mosquito-borne viral infection.”
Vectors of dengue fever are female mosquitoes, mainly of the Aedes genus. These can also transmit other viruses such as Zika, yellow fever, and chikungunya. According to a study published in The Lancet, 776 cases of the chikungunya viral infection were reported in Pakistan between the years 2016 and 2018. Also, 147,200 dengue virus infections and 800 deaths were reported from 1995 to 2019 in Pakistan alone.
“We have a dedicated dengue care unit, just like other public hospitals,” tells a healthcare professional who is associated with a major teaching hospital in the city. “Considering the rapid rise in dengue infections, we have allocated beds to dengue care in all wards of the medical units to accommodate any number of patients who may require hospitalisation.”
“It would be difficult to quote an accurate figure since many dengue-positive patients do not require hospitalisation,” says another member of a public hospital administration. “In most cases, a visit to the OPD (outpatient department) and home care is enough for recovery.”
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the country’s healthcare system hard. However, the dengue epidemic wasn’t unforeseen. Unfortunately, the PTI government’s lack of preparedness to contain the spread of dengue virus became the cause for its easy spread.
Even though the fumigation protocol and disease prevention have been low on the local government’s priorities, the Complete Blood Count (CBC) test for dengue detection remains reasonably priced at Rs 90 only. Private laboratories in and around Lahore confirm that any patient requiring a CBC test for dengue virus has to pay the minimal charges. However, they are requested to bring their CNICs to the testing stations for official records.
“Awareness campaigns are crucial for disease prevention,” adds Dr Awan.
The previous government’s efforts at managing dengue remain popular. “No significant efforts have been made in recent times by the authorities to prevent the spread of dengue infection,” says Saifullah, 43, a resident of Model Town, Lahore. “At least no fumigation drive has taken place in our area this year.”
It appears that too little, too late is the policy adopted by the city administration. “At a personal level, if we have done something, it does not count because the community is still largely at risk,” adds Saifullah. “The government must identify areas with a history of high concentration of dengue cases and focus on cleanliness drives to reduce the number of infections each year.”
Poor waste management and lack of proper water storage facilities in the city could exacerbate the situation. “Last year, polio workers regularly visited our area to ensure that dengue SOPs were followed at household levels,” says Shahwaiz Faiz, a young pharmacist. “We haven’t seen them around this year.”
As Lahore battles two viral infections, locals find it hard to adjust to the new normal. Urban areas across the country are at risk of infectious diseases. Intestinal infections along with dengue and Covid-19 are also spreading in the city. Overpopulation and poor sanitary conditions are adding to the problem at hand.
“Hospital managements are doing everything they can to ensure that patients receive proper care,” says a health official. “Failure to do so can lead to serious complications.”
Earlier, while addressing a press conference, the provincial health minister, Dr Yasmin Rashid, warned the people to remain vigilant as dengue cases could see a spike. “You must religiously follow the coronavirus and dengue virus protocols,” she declared.
Doctors and pharmacists agree that prevention is better than cure, but in case one contracts dengue virus, they should follow some basic steps to help with recovery. Mild infections can be treated at home. Taking paracetamol to lower fever and keeping oneself hydrated can ease the severity of the symptoms until one fully recovers.
The writer is a staff member