Sri Lanka Red Cross mobilises to help control spiralling dengue outbreak

By Melissa Winkler, IFRC

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society is mobilizing volunteers to support government efforts to stem the country’s worst-ever outbreak of dengue virus disease and provide medical assistance at overstretched hospitals.

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health reported this week that more than 87,600 suspected cases of the mosquito-borne infection have been reported in 2017, causing over 230 deaths. Dengue is endemic in Sri Lanka, but the number of infections this year is already about 38 per cent higher than 2016, when 55,150 people were diagnosed with dengue and 97 died.

Experts say the virus is a particularly virulent strain that is new to Sri Lanka, and therefore immunity is low.

Hospitals across the country are seeing patients suffering from high fever, severe pain, vomiting, skin rashes and other symptoms of the disease, with the largest caseloads in the western provinces of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara and Trincomalee.

Compounding the problem, recent monsoon rains in Sri Lanka caused severe flooding that left behind extensive pools of stagnant water and rotting rain-soaked garbage. These are ideal sites for mosquitoes to thrive.

Teams of Sri Lanka Red Cross Society volunteers have joined public health inspectors going house-to-house in Colombo and other areas to raise awareness about the disease and explain how to treat symptoms, prevent mosquito bites and get rid of waste and stagnant water. The volunteers are also helping authorities to identify and clean mosquito breeding grounds.

In the province of Gampaha, the Red Cross branch has dispatched medics and volunteers to provide patient care, laboratory support and administrative assistance at the overstretched Negombo Hospital.

Other Red Cross staff participated in the first phase of a government-led media campaign to prevent and control the outbreak – appearing on TV to discuss the symptoms of dengue and appropriate steps and medicines to take if infection is suspected.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross will be teaming up with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health to train more volunteers on dengue breeding site identification and elimination and other prevention tactics.

The IFRC in Sri Lanka is working closely with the local Red Cross to plan for an expanded response to the outbreak.

“More help is needed fast as the number of dengue cases climb, hospitals fill up, and health workers struggle to cope,” says Gerhard Tauscher, IFRC’s operations manager in the country. “We’re helping the Sri Lanka Red Cross scale up its response in coordination with government efforts, to curtail the outbreak and provide urgently needed medical services.”