Dengue: Turning up the volume on a silent disaster

Today, over 40 per cent of the world’s population is at risk from dengue, stresses the advocacy report released today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Dengue is a major public health issue. Over the past 50 years, dengue has spread from nine countries to over one hundred countries, a 30-fold increase in global incidence, making it the most rapidly spreading vector-borne disease. The overall disease burden varies from region to region, with Asia-Pacific housing 75 per cent of those at risk.

The disease is a leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. Every minute somewhere in the world, someone is admitted into a hospital. Every 25 minutes a young life is lost to dengue. For anyone who has had the disease, a reinfection can be even more severe as antibodies in the bloodstream enhance the symptoms.

Despite the unprecedented increase in dengue cases, global media attention has been almost non-existent. In 2010, the Haiti earthquake received nine times more media coverage than dengue over the same period. The Haiti earthquake affected 2.3 million people. Dengue affects 390 million people annually. Over 90 per cent of disasters such as dengue around the world go unnoticed – in silence. They are too small, too inconvenient or too easily overshadowed by other events. But for the millions of people they affect, these disasters are not silent.

“While there is no vaccine or cure for dengue, it can be managed and prevented,” says Dr. Stefan Seebacher, Head of the Health department at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). He goes on to say that, “In the fight against dengue, knowledge and resources at community level must be fully harnessed through integrated health programming. Vector control programmes, community empowerment and awareness campaigns are proven strategies to reduce the burden of the disease. Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers play a key role in community outreach activities for dengue prevention. However, these community activities need to be sustained over time if we want to succeed in changing behaviours.”

Though dengue affects all segments of society, this silent disaster further marginalizes the poorest and most vulnerable. Overall, the costs of dengue can be double, or even triple, the average monthly income of a family. On an average up to 45 per cent of the health costs are borne by the patient or the family. However, in developing countries, up to 90 per cent of the costs can be out of pocket expenses. This clearly has a significant economic impact upon the most vulnerable, whose monthly income in most cases, is significantly lower than the direct costs of the disease.

The IFRC urges a shift in approach by all stakeholders from responding to isolated outbreaks to investing in long-term integrated programming. “We need to move away from a reactive response to prevention and preparedness-driven activities, leading to sustainable behavioural change,” says Walter Cotte, Under Secretary General, IFRC. “A long-term engagement with the communities at risk is the key. Grassroots organizations at community level can contribute to sustained improvement of sanitation, reduction of mosquito breeding sites and increased level of knowledge on how to protect the community from dengue and to seek treatment in case of illness.” he adds

Dengue prevention and control is a collective responsibility that requires strong commitment, investment and collaboration among governments, donors, civil society organizations, communities and individuals alike. Together we can build more resilient communities and ensure that people are no longer abandoned to unnecessary, silent suffering caused by dengue.

For more information please check www.ifrc.org/dengue.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 mil­lion people each year through its 189 member National Societies. Together, the IFRC acts before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people. It does so with impartiality as to nationality, race, gender, religious beliefs, class and political opinions. For more information, please visit www.ifrc.org. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

For further information, please contact:

In Geneva:

Ombretta Baggio, Senior Health Communications Officer, IFRC Mobile: +41 79 708 48 27 – E-mail : ombretta.baggio@ifrc.org