3rd October 2021

Staff report


LAHORE

With 181 fresh dengue infections emerging across Punjab by October 1, a total of 1,840 such cases have been reported in the province since the beginning of the year. Of these, 283 are currently under treatment while as of January 1, 2021, three people have succumbed to the disease. While these numbers may be slightly more encouraging than for COVID-19, which this year has taken upwards of 12,000 lives and infected more than 400,000 in the same time period, Punjab’s hospitals will have the bear the burden of reallocating already stressed resources to treat yet another viral disease.

In Services, Lahore’s biggest government hospital, 58 dengue patients were received in the past 24 hours, of whom 45 are suspected to have contracted the disease while 13 are confirmed to be infected. According to doctors at the hospital’s emergency department, 27 dengue cases are coming in through the doors on average on a daily basis. However, no patient has developed severe symptoms or complications till date, nor any deaths.

“But there are more dengue patients than coronavirus patients,” a source at the hospital told Voicepk.net. “And their numbers appear to be increasing by the day.”

While indeed COVID-19 is spreads and kills far more aggressively, a combination of smart lockdown policies and vaccinations against the disease has stymied the caseload just enough being taking the burden off hospitals. However, the spread of dengue is threatening to throw healthcare institutions and its staff back into the quagmire they were now emerging from.

According to the World Health Organization, the first confirmed outbreak of dengue fever in Pakistan was in 1994, but a sudden rise in cases and the annual epidemic trend first occurred in Karachi in November 2005. Pakistan has been experiencing the dengue epidemic since 2010, and reports an increasing number of infections each subsequent year.

In 2019, Pakistan recorded a record 50,000 dengue cases, a little less than double the second highest infection count of 27,000 reported in 2011. However, when comparing the death toll for both years, 79 patients had succumbed to dengue in 2019 – four times less than the 370 deaths recorded nearly a decade earlier.

Data from 2020 is scant due to the outbreak of COVID-19, although studies during that period found that co-infections with dengue increased the chances of developing severe coronavirus symptoms as well as the risk of death. Despite the suspension of dengue control measures, pandemic restrictions, lack of movement and closure of public spaces had instead helped mitigate the propagation of dengue-carrying larvae and spread of the disease among citizens forced to remain indoors.

In 2021, much of these restrictions were formally lifted with the exception of COVID-19 hotspots where only partial lockdowns are imposed to control the highly transmissible Delta coronavirus strain. Like its annual polio eradication campaign which suffered a seven month setback due to pandemic restrictions and diversion of healthcare funds and resources, Pakistan’s anti-dengue drive was also left to gather dust this year round until a worrying surge in cases particularly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It was not until two weeks ago that governments in either province launched fumigation drives in dengue hotspots, reached out to community leaders to engage citizens regarding dengue prevention tactics, collecting environmental samples to detect the presence of Aedes mosquito larvae and pumping out stagnant water.

But with the steady rise in cases that may indicate to a much larger outbreak looming on the horizon, these measures have perhaps been implemented a little too late.

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