Public apathy main hurdle in war on dengue

(From left) Dr Noor Akma, Stevens, TTDI residents Boo Su-Lyn and Abdul Hafiz at the public forum on tackling the dengue menace.

FEARS over mosquito-borne diseases played a large part in 2016 with the emergence of the Zika virus, but dengue remains the most lethal.

With 101,357 reported cases and 237 deaths nationwide due to dengue last year, prevention continues to be the focus but a lack of education and an indifferent attitude among residents continue to be roadblocks many local authorities face.

It is a challenge the Taman Tun Dr Ismail Residents’ Association (TTDI RA) sought to tackle with a public forum hosted by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).

The forum on Jan 14 covered on-going efforts by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) as well as prevention techniques and different ways of approaching the situation.

DBKL Health and Environment officer Datin Dr Noor Akma Shabuddin said the number of reported cases and deaths nationwide had, however, dropped compared to 2014 and 2015.

“There has been a 1% increase in cases reported for Kuala Lumpur in 2016 with 8,140 cases compared to 8,057 in 2015.

“But there was a 42.9% drop in deaths with 20 deaths in 2016 compared to 35 in 2015,” she said.

According to statistics, the rise and fall in the number of dengue cases produces a seasonal cycle that peaks every four to five years.

Dr Noor Akma added that DBKL’s budget for vector control costs was RM4mil to RM5mil per year and steps taken over the years include larvaecide, fogging, search-and-destroy as well as gotong-royong.

“We need the community’s cooperation when fogging because the best way is for people to come out of their houses and open the front windows while keeping the back ones closed.

“Items used for serving food and drinks such as plates, as well as consumables such as food and drinks, even for pets, must be covered,” she said.

On fogging, Dr Noor Akma said the material used in fogging was no longer oil but water-based and would not stain furniture and other household items.

“We are also injecting male Aedes mosquitoes with Wolbachia, a type of bacteria, to reduce the ability of mosquitoes to be infected with the dengue virus.

“The bacteria cannot be passed from mosquitoes to people or animals as the Wolbachia is too big to travel down a mosquito’s salivary duct,” she assured.

TTDI resident for three decades and current RA chairman Abdul Hafiz Abu Bakar said they have three main aims to reduce the number of cases, through communication, education and integration by working together with relevant agencies.

“TTDI has 45,000 residents with 6,000 houses and 10 blocks of condominiums, covering 2.86sq km.

“The top five Aedes mosquito breeding habitats in homes are domestic containers, flower pots and trays, ornamental containers, plants and hardened soil, as well as construction sites.

“We communicate with residents through several means such as social media and educate them on facts and myths about dengue.

“For example, the Zika virus does not cause death compared to dengue, and it is not just about throwing out water in containers but really scrubbing the containers,” he said.

“In terms of integration, we work together with DBKL, Alam Flora and the Health Ministry for health talks, gotong-royong, blood donations and exhibitions.

“But public apathy is the biggest challenge that we face,” he added.

IDEAS senior fellow Philip Stevens then pointed out some of the major shortcomings of traditional methods in dengue prevention such as fogging, which requires large coverage area, continuous repetition and cost.

“New ways of thinking are needed because a lot of mosquitoes are becoming immune to commonly used insecticide.

“A vaccine has been made available in 13 other neighbouring countries, but not in Malaysia and vaccines hold real promise and may be the most cost-effective method in preventing the disease.

“But it still needs to be combined with other forms of vector control as the vaccine’s effectiveness is still not 100%,” he said adding that the debate on whether the vaccine should be brought into Malaysia should be continued.

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