By Simon Nianfop and Corinne Ambler
The Solomon Islands Red Cross has so far reached thousands of people in an awareness campaign aimed at curbing the spread of dengue fever.
An outbreak of dengue was declared in the Solomons on 8 October last year, and so far the total number of suspected cases is almost 7,500, mostly concentrated in Honiara. One person is confirmed to have died from dengue and another death is suspected but unconfirmed.
The Red Cross is working with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development to raise awareness among schoolchildren and communities about dengue and how to stop its spread.
75 Red Cross volunteers are distributing messaging in targeted areas of Guadalcanal, Gizo and Malaita, using posters and pamphlets, going door to door, and conducting radio programmes, songs, talks and dramas.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) emergency health delegate Donna Collins explained that awareness-raising campaigns on dengue and environmental sanitation have been carried out in 27 schools in Guadalcanal and 14 schools in Gizo, as well as at a church-based youth camp in the Guadalcanal highlands, attended by 4,000 people.
“The volunteers performed a skit around dengue signs and symptoms, with treatment and prevention messages. They also distributed more than 100 pamphlets and 1,000 posters in pidgin and English. The number of people reached during this camp was incredible, especially given that some participants had walked 3 days each way to attend,” said Donna.
In Kofiloko, a community in a valley east of Honiara, people were alarmed when they learnt that there was no cure for dengue and beds at the main hospital were full.
“People were afraid and you can tell that they were panicked because they did not know how to respond to it,” community member Joseph Tome said. “But after Red Cross did the awareness and volunteers did the clean up around the community, people became more aware and were confident of responding.”
Kofiloko Victorious Church Pastor Paul Foori said mobilising the community after church service was a very effective method of reaching everyone.
“More than 300 people including children were there when the volunteers spread the awareness messaging and cleaned up mosquito breeding sites. Cases seem to be dropping and more and more people are starting to keep their homes clean and taking preventive measures like sleeping under mosquito nets during daylight hours of dawn to dusk. In a way the outbreak brought good changes to the lives of the locals,” Pastor Foori said.
IFRC’s Donna Collins said she and her Solomon Islands Red Cross counterpart, Roy Oeta, have also started training volunteers to use the Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya Prevention Toolkit. While the Solomons does not currently have Zika or Chikungunya, she said it was good to raise volunteers’ awareness of all three viruses and how to prevent their spread.
Solomon Islands Red Cross has so far reached over 6,600 people with messaging during the current dengue awareness campaign. An IFRC disaster relief emergency fund of 79,000 Swiss francs is funding the operation until the end of January 2017.