Dengue Fever (DF), also known as breakbone fever, is not a new disease. But because of its serious emerging health threats, it has been constantly kept in the limelight through the media. For the last several decades, dengue virus that is transmitted through mosquitoes has been creating medical problems for several countries in the world. According to WHO, more than two billion people worldwide are affected by this disease and 1.8 billion (almost 70 percent) of them live in Asian countries.

DF is caused by the biting of a particular type of mosquito, Aedes Aegypti, which generally grows in clean water. As its growth takes place in clean water, the fever’s control is possible only though a well coordinated public awareness campaign. The people with weak immune systems are usually its victims. It is, however, a completely curable disease that can be treated within seven days through proper rest and medication. Nevertheless, the patients may have to undergo a great deal of trouble, if the treatment is not appropriate or if preventive measures have not been taken at the right time. It is also important to mention that if a person, who’s already suffered from DF, is affected again, he faces the risk of internal bleeding and, in that condition, may need fresh blood or platelets. Anyway, in spite of the fact that death rate from DF is less than one percent, it creates considerable panic among the people.

In Punjab, signs of dengue virus were found for the first time in District Khushab in 2003; but it remained confined to that area. No case was reported in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, some were reported from Lahore and Rawalpindi because some Karachites, who were infected with dengue virus, had travelled to these cities. Subsequently, more cases were reported in 2007. In the following year (2008), about 1,407 cases were reported from different parts of Punjab; only 120 cases were reported in 2009. In 2011, a deadly outbreak of DF claimed the lives of more than 300 persons, while more than 25,000 confirmed dengue patients were reported from all over the province.

It was a challenging situation for the Chief Minister of Punjab, Mian Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif, and his government. The CM boldly faced the challenge and took highly appreciable steps on emergency basis for the DF’s eradication and the treatment of patients. International dengue experts from Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries were immediately brought in to deal with the rapid spread of the virus. Due to the CM Punjab’s efforts, and guidance of the foreign experts, the provincial government was able to control it. With a great deal of hard work and professional commitment, the Sri Lankan experts trained and directed Pakistani doctors responsible for treating dengue patients. High dependency units were set up in all government hospitals where trained doctors and staff were present day and night, in addition to the free of cost Complete Blood Count (CBC) Test for the people. At the same time, private laboratories were directed to charge Rs 90 only as fee for it.

Even this year, the same facility has been provided to the people and, in case of non-cooperation at any level, the people can file their complaints by contacting the concerned authorities on the helpline 0800-02345.

Last year, in a step to deal with the growing number of dengue patients in the province, general physicians working in private hospitals were trained in government hospitals. A Chief Minister Dengue Research Cell was set up to conduct research into dengue and other viruses active in this region. Then a Dengue Experts Advisory Group (DEAG) consisting of senior professors was established. Even today, it is working efficiently because whenever a new suspected dengue patient appears, it conduct tests according to the Standard Operating Procedures to decide whether or not he/she is suffering from it.

As instructed by CM Shahbaz, the essential machinery and equipment have been provided to the district governments to deal with its possible outbreak. They have ample stocks of fogging machines, spray pumps and anti-mosquito insecticides. DF’s massive outbreak last year was a new experience for the Punjab government and people, while medical experts too did not have sufficient information about it.

Side by side, a separate dengue section has been set up in the Health Department. Its head is known as Additional Director General for Vector Born Diseases. It is fully functional these days and new staff has also been recruited. In the light of last year’s experience, the CM Punjab and other concerned departments are working vigorously for the control and eradication of dengue virus. All the related activities, such as vector surveillance, disease surveillance and larvae siding, are going on – uninterrupted!

Despite these laudable steps conducted by the government and utilisation of all available resources, public awareness is of utmost importance for the effective prevention of all diseases. Every government needs complete public support to tackle with major problems. It becomes more important in the case of DF because experts believe that more than being a medical problem; it is a social problem that cannot be eradicated without creating public awareness.

Against this backdrop, the Punjab government and Health Department have launched a dynamic public awareness campaign. As a part of this campaign, lady health workers and CBC supervisors, as well as more than 15,000 volunteers who have been registered and trained by the government, are going from door to door, providing all the relevant information to the people. Massive media campaigns are also being launched for this purpose.

On their part, the people too should not allow water to remain stagnant in their homes and streets. Tanks, tubs and other utensils containing water should be covered and water should not be stored for a long time. Anti-mosquito sprays should be used inside homes. The people should use mosquito repellent lotions and appropriate precautions to protect themselves against mosquito bites.

Indeed, the government’s strategies and massive public awareness campaigns have been very effective because only a few dengue cases have been reported this year as compared to the large number of cases last year. This year, the situation so far seems to be under control. But instead of being complacent, we should be highly vigilant and monitor the situation from moment to moment. All the government steps and initiatives can only be fruitful when it is accompanied by people’s participation and cooperation.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.