Red Cross fights spikes in dengue across the Pacific

By Corinne Ambler, IFRC

Red Cross staff and volunteers are scaling up efforts to tackle outbreaks of dengue fever which have been confirmed in at least nine Pacific Island Nations. The Solomon Islands has experience the highest number of cases, with more than 10,000 suspected infections since a dengue outbreak was declared in October 2016.

The Solomon Islands Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have just completed a successful dengue awareness campaign which reached over 16,000 people. The four month operation, supported by the IFRC’s disaster relief emergency fund (DREF), saw the mobilization of 75 Solomon Islands Red Cross volunteers who carried out health awareness activities in dengue hotspots with schools and communities, working closely with the Ministry of Health & other partners.

The teams used posters, pamphlets, radio programmes, songs and drama to educate communities about dengue, going door to door and into schools and churches. They also ran environmental sanitation campaigns in the community, to destroy mosquito breeding sites

In Vanuatu, suspected dengue cases have risen to almost 2,000 since November 2016, impacting five of the countries six provinces. The IFRC has provided emergency funds to enable the Vanuatu Red Cross to run an awareness and response campaign for three months, which aims to reach around 26,000 people. Two thirds of those contracting dengue are under 25 years old which has led the Vanuatu Red Cross to focus its awareness activities on school-aged children and young adults.

IFRC health worker Angus Walker said volunteers have been trained and work was about to start in 25 of the worst affected communities in Shefa and Malampa provinces, including prevention activities in 10 schools.

“We will be helping communities to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and dispose of waste where mosquitos can breed, as well as conducting a mass communication campaign to increase their awareness about what dengue fever is, how to avoid it and how to recognise symptoms,” he said.

In Fiji, the Red Cross has been disseminating information about dengue as part of its Tropical Cyclone Winston recovery work since May last year. Fiji Red Cross Health Coordinator Marica Kepa said that people have received information on how to fight dengue through door to door visits and community meetings, including how to destroy mosquito breeding grounds and how to avoid bites and keep hydrated if bitten.

There have been 155 confirmed cases of dengue so far in Fiji in 2017, and the Government is preparing to launch a “Fight the Bite” awareness campaign.

In American Samoa the government has declared a public health emergency after 30 suspected and 13 confirmed dengue cases. It is the first time the country has had a case of dengue serotype 2 since 1972.

In New Caledonia t there have been 1,163 dengue cases and three people have died from the disease. Nauru has 50 suspected cases, and the virus has also been confirmed in Palau (51), French Polynesia (29) and Australia (202).

The IFRC’s Asia Pacific Regional Emergency Health Coordinator Kym Blechynden said the outbreaks are a concern because of the high number of countries affected. She explained how higher than normal rainfall experienced in a number of countries has created good conditions for mosquitos to breed.

“We are keeping a close watch on the situation and are ready to provide further support to Red Cross National Societies in their prevention and response activities as needed, including mobilising our wide network of community volunteers,” said Blechynden.

“However community members can act now to minimise the risk of dengue by reducing mosquito breeding sites around their workplaces and communities and ensuring they know how to prevent mosquito bites.”

Symptoms of dengue fever include high fever for at least 2 days, accompanied by at least two of the following: severe headache, nausea and vomiting, muscle or joint pain, pain behind the eyes, and a rash. In severe cases, there could be bleeding from the nose or gums.

Over the past 50 years, dengue has spread from nine to over a hundred countries, making it the most rapidly spreading vector-borne disease.

Dengue cases have risen from 15,000 per year in the 1960s to 390 million today. The overall disease burden varies from region to region, with Asia-Pacific home to 75 per cent of those at risk.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 40% of the world’s population is at risk of being infected with dengue. All age groups are at risk though pregnant women, young children and those with other illnesses can be impacted more if contracting Dengue.

For more information on the IFRC Dengue Campaign please go to: http://www.ifrc.org/dengue