Sri Lanka

Red Cross Red Crescent national societies join forces to fight vector-borne diseases in South Asia

News and Press Release
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By Mahieash Johnney, Sri Lanka Red Cross and Ly Nguyen, IFRC

Dengue, Chikungunya and more recently the Zika virus pose an increasing threat to vulnerable populations worldwide. All of these vector-borne diseases are endemic to various countries in Asia and Pacific and in some countries infection rates, particularly of Dengue, have reached alarming proportions.

Over 2,200 dengue cases were reported this year in Sri Lanka alone, prompting the country’s government, aid workers, and other partners in the field to scale-up efforts to educate the public and raise awareness around prevention measures.

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies recently organized a workshop for 25 Red Cross Red Crescent health workers from the region to provide community based health and first aid mosquito borne diseases training.

The workshop, which was supported by the Finnish and New Zealand Red Cross Societies, focused on improving participants’ knowledge around vector-borne diseases and exploring solutions to issues faced by the health workers in their respective communities.

“When I first heard about this training, I wondered what else we could learn about mosquitoes that we don’t already know,” says Ahmed Abdulla, Branch Coordinator for the Maldivian Red Crescent. “But now I realize that there are so many things we could do to stop vector-borne diseases from spreading.”

From 6 to 8 December 2016, a similar workshop for Red Cross health workers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam was hosted by the Viet Nam Red Cross Society, in collaboration with the IFRC.

Like Sri Lanka, the four South East Asia countries have seen a similar rise in dengue cases. In Vietnam, nearly 99,000 dengue cases were reported in 2016, as opposed to around 83,000 cases in 2015. There have been reports of 93 zika virus cases in the country, 77 of which occured in Ho Chi Minh City, the country's largest city.

“Having this type of training is crucial at this point in time, as it will help us as health workers to address the situation before it worsens," said Dao Thi Thanh Tam, Under-Secretary General and the Director of Healthcare Department for the Viet Nam Red Cross Society.

“This was a very participatory training where everyone got the chance to be involved,” said Sok Long, the Director of the Healthcare Department at the Cambodian Red Cross. “Throughout the workshop, there was a lot of practical sessions, that will help us apply theory into practice for our work in the community."

Kym Blechynden, the IFRC’s Regional Emergency Health Coordinator for Asia Pacific, says that mosquito-borne diseases including Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya kill more than 725,000 people globally each year.

“These diseases are largely preventable and we must do more to stop what has become a silent disaster,” she says. “The IFRC is partnering with National Societies like the Sri Lanka Red Cross across Asia Pacific to roll out a new Zika-Dengue-Chikunguya (ZDC) Toolkit which enables communities to take action to eliminate mosquito breeding sites and prevent transmission.”

The Toolkit contains Community and School Prevention Modules and a toolkit of resources and games to print out and use. It can be used by Red Cross volunteers and anyone working with communities to pass on knowledge and skills in prevention and response on Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya. It helps volunteers and communities to understand the cause, symptoms, treatment and the prevention of these diseases. The resource can be adapted and used in existing community health programmes and activities, integrated with other sector activities and it can also be adapted for use in emergencies and after disasters.

As climate change shifts the distribution of mosquitoes to new areas, mosquito control programmes, community empowerment and awareness campaigns are proven strategies to reduce the impacts of vector-borne diseases. Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers play a key role in their community, particularly in school outreach programmes and activities targeted around prevention efforts. These community-based activities need to be sustained to ensure long-lasting disease control.

During the workshop participants took part in piloting the Toolkit’s usability and effectiveness. On the last day participants worked in their National Society groups to plan how they could integrate mosquito borne disease prevention activities into core business and how the Toolkit activities could be included into current or proposed programmes and activities. A similar workshop will take place in Viet Nam in the latter part of this year.

For more information on the toolkits, please click on the following links

ZDF Toolkit: Community
ZDF Toolkit: School / Youth
ZDF Prevention Toolkit