Connexion: Health marshals needed to beat dengue

By Joachim Ng

Perak has outshined most states in seeing that a deadly menace doesn’t fly out of control. The number of dengue cases has risen only 7% to 1,903 this year from 1,782 last year.

Seriously bitten are Kelantan with a phenomenal 4.3fold hike in cases, Melaka (up 3.8fold), Sarawak (up 3.6fold), Kuala Lumpur/Putrajaya (up 2.5fold), Pahang (up 2fold), Terengganu (up 2fold), Johor (up 2fold), Selangor (up 1.8fold), Negri Sembilan (up 1.8fold), Sabah (up 1.6fold), Perlis (up 1.5fold) and Penang (up 1.2fold). Kedah and Labuan are the only hopefuls with declining rates of -2% and –62% respectively. But with another four months to go, will they too slip into the drain?

“The major contributing factor is poor environmental cleanliness. Abundant man-made containers provide places for the Aedes mosquito to breed and increase the spread of the dengue virus,” says Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah. Litter contributes to the problem, he adds.

Mosquitoes thrive in hot  and poorly maintained built surroundings. This explains why 80 per cent of dengue cases occur in urban areas. As mosquitoes breed faster and bite more frequently with climate warming, the total number of annual cases may rise tenfold in the coming years with deaths reaching a parallel tenfold increase.

In the 1970s the number of dengue cases was just a handful per year. But you now have a fair chance of falling victim with the steep proliferation of breeding spots: messy houses, uncleaned toilets, rotting playgrounds, dirty eateries, littered green patches, clogged drains, garbage mountains, lallang plots, construction site ponds, abandoned properties.

Two human factors  are greatly impeding the Health Ministry’s battle against  dengue: widespread social indiscipline and missing law enforcement. The solution lies in having political courage to impose social discipline and punish offenders severely.

Social Discipline: Train, deputise and equip health marshals with AI tracking devices to keep watch at every location where people live, travel, work, or study. Empower the marshals to issue summonses that can only be redeemed through community work in public hospitals and payment of deterrent fines.

Law Enforcement: Neighbourhood ratepayer committees should be established to take over some enforcement duties from local authorities. Let these committees hire the public cleaning service contractors from an approved list. Empower the committees to supervise and terminate any contractor for negligence. Owners of lallang plots, abandoned properties and mosquito-infested sites that cause dengue deaths should be arrested and jailed if found guilty.

If we keep governing the nation in a sloppy way, we cannot beat dengue. Instead, dengue will suck the lifeblood out of us.

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