NOWSHERA – The health department is struggling to stem the spread of dengue fever in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after the outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease in Khyber and Nowshera districts due to the unavailability of funds, say, officials.
They insist that the government is focusing on polio and coronavirus control, so dengue is a highly neglected disease with the number of its cases jumping from 213 to 415 within a month.
Health officials told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the dengue incidence had been steadily rising in the province for three months.
They said the department had recorded 38 cases of the vector-borne disease in June, 103 in July and 177 in August with most of them being reported in Khyber, Peshawar, Haripur and Nowshera districts and Frontier Region Dera Ismail Khan.
The officials warned that the situation could worsen after the recent heavy rains, which had left behind pools of stagnant water, a major breeding spot for mosquitoes.
They said the province had recorded dengue outbreaks in 2017, 2019 and 2021 and any laxity on part of the government could repeat that crisis to the misery of the residents.
The officials said the health department required funds to carry out fumigation and spread community-based awareness of ways to prevent dengue as health workers didn’t have vehicles to take preventive measures against the disease in its hotspots.
They said in Feb, provincial chief secretary Dr Shahzad Khan Bangash had sanctioned Rs170 million in emergency funds to check the spread of dengue fever after attending a briefing by the relevant health officials.
The officials said the money was to be used to procure dengue testing kits, medicines, larvicide and bed nets and to purchase fuel for the movement of health workers in all 36 districts of the province.
They said the health department later formally requested the finance department for the funds but there came no response.
The officials said a long delay in the release of funding had heightened fears of the outbreak of dengue fever from Nowshera and Khyber to other districts.
They feared that if the growing incidence of the disease wasn’t checked in Khyber and Nowshera without delay, hospitalisations and deaths in both districts would increase significantly.
The officials said the authorities were ‘extremely busy’ with fighting Covid-19 and polio by providing most health workers and resources for vaccination campaigns, so the dengue issue had been ignored ‘altogether’.
They said the deputy commissioners, as directed by the chief secretary, had enlisted the support of the respective TMAs and WSSP for anti-dengue campaigns but the shortage of funds was hampering a full-scale crackdown on the mosquito-borne disease.
The officials said the highest dengue incidence in the province was reported in Khyber tribal district (88 cases) followed by Peshawar (80 cases) and Haripur (50 cases).
They said there was no let-up in rising dengue cases causing fears of its further spread due to warm and humid weather, which was favourable for mosquito breeding.
The officials said the chief secretary had directed the district response teams and all relevant departments to make efforts for dengue control and prevention through multi-sectoral approach as outlined by the government’s Dengue Action Plan.
They said the situation was being monitored at the directorate-general (health services) and health secretariat levels, which regularly received progress reports on the issue from districts.
The officials said the chief secretary held dengue review meetings every fortnight.
Meanwhile, officials at the health secretariat told Dawn that though dengue incidence was on the rise, the situation was ‘under control’ unlike last year.
They claimed that the issue was limited to hotspots and was not widespread and that the districts were acting with the available resources to stem the spread of the virus.
The officials, however, warned that a lack of funds could aggravate the situation as there was no money to carry out fumigation to do away with mosquito larva in stagnant water and inside houses.
They said once the required funds were released, the dengue response would be more intensified to check the spread of the disease and reduce hospitalisations and deaths caused by it.
(Source: National print & online media with input from social media & local sources).