Monday, February 9, 2009

More has to be done to fight an old enemy

ARE you concerned about the aedes scourge? You should be, especially if you live on the fringes of Kuala Lumpur, such as in Old Klang Road, Ampang, Gombak or even Sentul, where illegal factories, squatter areas, construction sites and dirty hawker centres are the norm.

A few weeks ago, Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai released these worrisome numbers -- 4,221 dengue cases with 12 fatalities were reported from Jan 1 to 23. The figure was almost double the 2,153 cases and five deaths recorded during the same period last year.

The majority of cases happened in the Klang Valley, with Kuala Lumpur recording 409 cases and two deaths in the first three weeks of this month, compared to only 270 cases for the same period last year.

As usual, the public has been told be on the alert and to take measures to keep aedes at bay, etc, you know, the usual drill when there is not much left to say.

The dengue scourge is not new. Go through the newspaper archives and you will find enough reports to make a book. And in most of the stories, the faceless Joe and Jill Public have been blamed for the scourge's continuance and told to be more responsible. I couldn't agree more -- dirty people breed diseases.

I do consider myself a responsible member of the public. Where I live, the management of the condominium frequently carries out fogging.

I am sure other condominium managers do the same -- it is immaterial whether it is done out of duty, a guilty conscience or required by law.

But while we, the members of the public, are trying hard to keep our compounds aedes-free, barely a shouting distance away, illegal factories and dirty hawker stalls are happily raking in the money with nary a care for their surroundings. They are not bothered if their surroundings are clean, waterlogged, or close to becoming an open garbage dump that not only breeds aedes but is also home to disease-carrying rodents and other pests.

I can, of course, initiate a gotong- royong every alternate day of the week, get my fellow condo dwellers to clean up every inch of our compound. We could, as humanly possible, even clean up the entire one-kilometre radius around our homes.

Heck, if we have the time, we might even give the roadside pebbles a good scrub and the rusty lamp-posts a polish so they gleam with pride.

But then, wouldn't that be running council workers out of their jobs -- which we are paying for through the payment of assessment, quit rent and other taxes?

These are the people who are supposed to make sure garbage is not indiscriminately dumped and become aedes breeding grounds. They are also supposed to catch the culprits and mete out the harshest punishment permitted by law.

They are also supposed to be patrolling the city and making sure that no illegal factories are set up, or to demolish existing ones.

And then, there are the council's health department officers who are attached to the vector-borne diseases unit. These officers should not only be monitoring outbreaks of dengue but they should also identify the patterns of periodic returns and take measures before the disease hits us.

Of course, the dirty public should also not be spared. If caught breeding mosquitoes, they should be fined or even face sterner action.

All these are necessary if we want to ensure our city is dengue-free.

Meanwhile, my friend Dr Loo has warned of another aedes-related threat -- chikugunya.

Transmitted by the aedes mosquitoes, it is believed to have originated in the African and Indian subcontinent. Chikugunya did not emerge until the mid-2000s. Some observers believed that it was brought in by infected travellers.

I am just keeping my fingers crossed that it will not be as widespread as dengue for when it does, I shall not hesitate to pin the blame on the public servants -- those people at the Health Ministry, Immigration checkpoints and City Hall.

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