Connexion: Dengue: Empower local communities

By Joachim Ng

The death of a 30-year-old Perakian from zika, a viral disease transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, underscores the dismally poor efforts at wiping out a killer pest that is relatively easy to destroy.

Years of unabated dengue, and now the return of zika, bodes ill for Perak and the rest of Malaysia as we continue failing to clip the wings of this deadly insect. As at mid-October, the number of dengue cases throughout Malaysia this year has exceeded 104,000 with 152 deaths. Over the past 20 years, the total number of cases has exceeded one million and the number of deaths is well over 2,000.

A menace with a painful and venomous bite — yet we let it breed uncontrollably. Since year 2000 the number of dengue cases has risen more than tenfold. We know so much about this enemy that if you collect all the published information about it, you will need a condo-high bookcase to put the files.

But the greatest danger from Aedes lies in the horizon beyond its flight path. Dengue surge is a clinical indication that Malaysia is stricken by two chronic disorders: political malfunction and social indiscipline.

Political Malfunction. Representative government means that you elect a representative who then does the job for you. The idea is very ancient but our structure of democracy is severely deficient. Representation in its aboriginal form — original democracy — required every household cluster to have at least one rep. Today, this means every neighbourhood should have an elected non-political committee that is legally empowered to help  govern the area.

Wherever there is a dengue-free zone, you will find a vigorous Rukun Tetangga committee, residents committee, developer-JMB committee, or property owners’ management committee. It’s common sense. If you involve the people in governance, they  care. But if you exclude them, you destroy their caring spirit. Governing committees should be set up in every neighbourhood.

Social Indiscipline. When the ferocious Typhoon Hagibis struck Japan causing 78 deaths, a keen observer noticed that the flood waters didn’t flush any trash out. There is no trash in Japan, he explained.

Here in Malaysia we have piles of trash decorating the roadsides and green patches, except in tourist districts. Mosquitoes do breed in garbage and drains, in addition to homes and construction sites, because they contain stagnant water that is clean to a mosquito. Empower local communities to deputise voluntary health marshals. They are daily on site and with adequate training they can do the job of penalising rule-breakers and educating fellow residents.

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