Presidential Task Force:
Joint effort to battle dengue - Addl. Secy, Ministry of Health
Sarath Chandra Vithana
The Dengue epidemic could be considered as
the most dangerous health hazards experienced by the people during the
recent past in our country and the government has initiated a number of
programs to combat the epidemic and save the nation.
The Sunday Observer had an exclusive
interview with the Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Health Sarath
Chandra Vithana to ascertain the present position of the problem and the
measures taken to curb the spread of the disease.
Q: Can you briefly explain the epidemic and how it is
transmitted from place to place?
A: Dengue is a common mosquito-borne infection that is found
in tropical or sub tropical regions of the world and in the recent
decades has emerged as a major public health concern especially in South
and South East Asia including Sri Lanka. We have experienced an epidemic
of dengue fever in the country during the year 2009, with 34,896
suspected cases and 345 reported deaths.
The epidemic was at its peak during the monsoon months with Colombo,
Gampaha, Kandy, Kegalle and Kurunegala identified as the worst affected
areas with the south western monsoon followed by Trincomalee, Batticaloa,
Vavuniya and Jaffna being affected during North Eastern monsoon rains.
Dengue fever has a wide spectrum of diseases outcome with the
majority consisting of either asymptomatic or having an undifferentiated
fever only. About 25% of the infected persons develop classical dengue
fever and around 4% of the patients with classical dengue fever progress
into dengue haemorrhagic fever/ dengue shock syndrome which can lead to
complications and death particularly among children.
Dengue is caused by an Arbo virus with four closely related sero
types, transmitted by day biting “Aedes aegypti” and “Aedes albopictus”
mosquitoes. Dengue virus is transmitted throughout the year in most
parts of the island with greater intensity in more urban, densely
Wet climatic condition in the island with heavy rainfall during the
Southwest (May-July) and North-East monsoons (October-January) and the
high humidity and the rapid urbanization, over-crowding of cities and
careless human behaviour all provide a conducive environment for the
rapid breeding of the dengue mosquito vector and the spread of dengue
Q: Dengue is found in some other countries in our region and
do you think that the same reasons have caused the problem in their
A: The burden of Dengue fever is evolving rapidly, with
increased frequency of outbreaks and expansion to new geographical areas
that were previously unaffected. The progressive worsening of dengue in
many countries is attributed to population migration, proliferating
trade and travel, developmental activities and expansion of agriculture,
unplanned urban development, poor water storage and unsatisfactory
sanitary conditions creating breeding places.
In many countries dengue epidemics are an indication of the failure
of the public service system to respond rapidly.
Q: What action have you taken to avoid the spread of dengue
when it was first detected as a deadly disease in the country?
A: Well the Ministry had taken precautionary measures from the
beginning to curb dengue from the first reported death of confirmed
dengue. We provided necessary medical facilities, including treatments
and equipment to all hospitals, launched awareness programs among the
stakeholders, educated the public about the danger of the disease,
propaganda campaigns were conducted in schools and in social
organisations in the country.
Q: With all those propaganda campaigns against this epidemic,
there seems to be a steady growth in the epidemic during the last year
and the public outcry is that the government has failed to combat this
deadly disease which has taken over 300 lives.
A: It has been observed in the past, that however much the
Ministry tried to control the epidemic through its numerous programs and
propaganda campaigns, the public support for same was not adequately
extended and when few deaths are reported with short intervals,
naturally the public outcry is more. At the same time the Opposition
points the finger at the government to gain some political milage from
this unfortunate situation.
Q: What action has the government taken to obtain public
support to eradicate the menace recently?
A: Well, a large number of steps were taken during the last
few months by the government to obtain the public support for this
The appointing of a Dengue Eradication Presidential Task Force by
President Mahinda Rajapaksa could be considered as the most effective
action taken recently in combatting the epidemic.This task force consist
of seven ministries working tirelessly round the clock for the last few
months and we have been able to achieve positive results already. The
Health Ministry, Defence Ministry, Local Government and Provincial
Council Ministry, Environment Ministry, Housing and Construction
Ministry and Finance Ministry working as one unit and different areas of
work in respect of the eradication process is delegated to the officials
of all these seven ministries.
Therefore the government had successfully overcome the delays and
structural procedure in coordinating the program. And also it had been
easy for the government to muster the support of the public too
resulting in the controlling of the spread of the epidemic.
Timely control of epidemics requires sustained high level government
commitment, strengthening of the public health infrastructure,
intersectoral collaboration and community participation to maximize the
provision of integrated services. It is recognized that for optimum
control of vector, operational capacities and resources at central and
local levels be improved.
Non health sectors are usually not aware of the technical, managerial
skills on the vector management, and synergistic actions are thus
fragile.Collaboration among national health agencies and major
stakeholders to implement dengue program is therefore urgently required
for an integrated program.Dengue Eradication Presidential Task Force is
of immense benefit to the ministry and to the entire country at large
through which we have already managed to combat the problem to a great
extent. It had been proved by the monthly statistics of the
corresponding months of the previous year.