Pakistan : Dengue politics


No one from the government can keep the opposition from politicising death and disease stemming from dengue, especially when the figure of those testing positive has touched the five digit mark. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health, Dr Zafar Mirza, who shared the figure with the media with the warning that the number will go up next week, has snubbed politicians for raising the issue for ‘point scoring’. Why would the opposition not exploit poor public health policies when at least 10,013 dengue cases have been reported across the country? Let’s not forget that the SAPM himself is banking on a decrease in mercury as the most effective measure for dengue control, not active surveillance and pest control to cull the vector borne disease.

Dengue is not new to this region. This year, 2,363 cases have been reported in Punjab, 2,258 in Sindh, 1,814 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 1,772 in Balochistan. True, dengue cases used to number more in previous years but in those times the government knew that without public participation, the mosquito-borne virus would not be eliminated. Media reports will vouch for the fact that in those years, the opposition especially PTI, would regularly mock the government for its inability to ‘control something as small as a mosquito’. Reminding the incumbent ruling party of its past jibes, the Pakistan Muslim League-N has demanded resignation from the government over dengue control failure.

The government awoke late to this dengue danger. This year, excessive rains and moderate temperatures provided the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Dengue started showing signs of striking in July and August but the government responded to compelling signs with a tepid response. The detection and eradication of larva, public awareness campaigns and fumigation would have made the difference. Now, when the disease has been upgraded to an epidemic, the government has started taking action. In this regard, the deputy commissioner of Lahore became the first causality of dengue failure. Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar should take interest in other parts of the province as well and make more examples out of negligent officials. Similar punitive actions have yet to be reported from other parts of Pakistan. Provinces should work under a well-connected mechanism to fight the virus. Patients should be provided free facilities at public hospitals. Meanwhile, the opposition should keep pressing the government for effective public health measures. *