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The battle against dengue fever in Cambodia


This is always a worrying time of year for Cambodian health
officials, as cases of dengue fever normally spike in June and July.
However, this year officials at the National Dengue Control Programme
(NDCP) are especially concerned.

They have already seen a high number of reported cases in the first
two months of 2011, when dengue should be fairly dormant. Alarm is also
being raised by the number of patients suffering from dengue hemorrhagic
fever (around two-thirds, compared to half in 2010). Major outbreaks of
dengue fever strike Cambodia every 3 to 5 years and in interviews given
to IRIN, specialists at the NDCP are saying the pattern of cases is
looking similar to 2007, when the last large epidemic hospitalised
around 40,000 people, with over 10,000 in one week.

Cambodia normally takes measures each year to try and reduce cases of
dengue during what’s known as the ‘nightmare season’. However, this
year there could be problems in the implementation of these programmes.
An annual grant which normally makes up three-fifths of the NDCP’s
budget is yet to arrive from the Asian Development Bank. And since
Cambodia’s health services were decentralised three years ago, there is
uncertainty over what control measures are being taken in certain areas
and whether provinces have begun distribution of the chemical used to
kill mosquito larvae.

Recent research from Peru (where a dengue outbreak killed 14 people
earlier this year) questions whether this is the most effective
technique for controlling the spread of dengue fever. Researchers found
that mosquitoes choose to lay their eggs in water which is already
heavily infested with those of other mosquitoes. Therefore using
larvicides to kill eggs or removing them, may simply spur mosquitoes to
find other sites. Instead, the creation of ‘egg-sinks’ treated with
growth regulators to limit the emergence of adults may be a better way
to control mosquito numbers, though the scientists warn that individual
countries may need to adopt different controlling strategies.

In recent years, the NDCP has tried alternative methods in Cambodia
for preventing dengue, such as introducing guppy fish (which eat
mosquito larvae) in water storage containers. These trial projects have
been ongoing for 7 years and have prevented serious outbreaks of dengue.
But though this kind of scheme only costs around 1 dollar per household
to maintain, up-front investment is needed to put the necessary
infrastructure in place. Wider adoption is therefore prevented by the
short-term nature of many aid grants.

According to a spokesperson at the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia,
there is currently no alarm within the organisation over reported cases
of dengue fever in 2011. However, he admitted that the situation could
change.

Laurinda Luffman signature

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