Venezuelan Grassroots Take On Dengue Epidemic

The health and education ministries launched a new campaign to fight the Venezuelan dengue epidemic yesterday.

By Tamara Pearson - Venezuelanalysis.com
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Merida, July 2nd, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) –The health and education ministries launched a new national campaign yesterday to fight the dengue fever epidemic currently affecting Venezuela as well as many other tropical countries across the Americas and the world.

School students and communities are helping raise awareness about the disease.

Health authorities have registered 48,000 cases of dengue in the country, with a mortality rate of 0.7 percent of all cases. Venezuelan Health Minister Eugenia Sader said that in the last month the number of dengue cases had increased by 200 percent globally, but by 69 percent in Venezuela and 81 percent in the Americas.

She said Venezuela’s dengue mortality rate is the lowest in the Americas.

Dengue is carried and transmitted to humans by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, commonly called “white feet” for its appearance. It breeds in stagnant clean water and is found in tropical areas, both urban and rural, around the world.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 50 million cases of dengue infection world wide every year, and the disease is endemic in over 100 countries. The disease manifests as a fever with headaches, muscle and joint pain, rashes, and other possible symptoms, and usually lasts two to seven days.

A small proportion of cases can lead to Dengue Shock Syndrome, which has a high mortality rate. There is no approved vaccine.

Sader explained that the new campaign consists in fostering new healthy habits and using preventative measures to decrease the number of infections.

Venezuelan major league baseball player Roger Cedeño offered to be a spokesperson around the issue and also to donate sporting equipment to schools and organised communities who comply with the preventative measures to avoid the breeding of the mosquitos.

Singers known as Franco and Oscarcito will use their music to support the campaign with messages to raise awareness.

“Squadrons” of health committees will visit schools, universities, and communities, to educate them around dengue prevention. This will continue a recent nationwide grassroots effort where community members and school children have been visiting houses in their area to explain the causes and symptoms of dengue fever, medical treatment options, and accompanying health workers check the houses for stagnant water and provide residents with plastic water covers.

Local barrio adentro clinics also have noticeboards with information about dengue fever and hospitals have been conducting workshops with community council health spokespeople, who then organise campaigns in their local area.

Sader said the state was also conducting free dengue examinations and “we have 54 public health laboratories ... as well as the Integral Diagnostic Centres [part of the barrio adentro health agreement with Cuba] where patients can go for the exams.”

Jorge Jenkins, representative of the Pan American Health Organisation in Venezuela, congratulated the Venezuelan government for the actions it has taken to mobilise grassroots and other organisations, following the recommendations of his organisation and “implicitly recognising that dengue is a serious illness and everyone’s problem”.

He stressed that while fumigation can eliminate the adult mosquitoes, preventing them breeding was the most effective way to fight the disease.

In March this year the government also assigned an additional $21 million to fight dengue, malaria and chagas disease, while assigning a range of amounts to hospital improvements, new health projects, and expanding the country’s immunisation program.

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