In the last year, Sri Lanka has witnessed its worst outbreak of the dengue virus, a mosquito-borne viral disease.
The World Heath Organization (WHO) states that countries with tropical and sub-tropical climates are particularly vulnerable to the dengue virus. Recent reports by the WHO have indicated that the spread of this often fatal virus has been on the rise in recent years, with statistics showing that the number of reported cases increased from 2.2 million in 2010 to 3.2 million in 2015.
TIME Magazine reports the death toll in Sri Lanka has risen to 225 people, with over 76, 000 having been infected with the virus.
This disease has no doubt proliferated under conditions which have been conducive to its growth. As Dr. Ruwan Wijayamuni, Colombo’s chief medical officer, reported to SkyNews, piles of rubbish and water puddles following the monsoon season has created a breeding ground for the mosquitoes carrying this virus that has exacerbated the extent of the disease. The Minister of Health, Rajitha Senaratne, has expressed that “dengue will get worse as flood waters recede further.”
Military spokesman Brig. Roshan Senevirathna has emphasized that the over exhaustion of hospitals and public health facilities has made it difficult to admit new patients as the disease continues to spread. As CNN reports, there are numerous children and adults who have been forced to share a bed designed for a single person. Many of those affected by the virus are calling for the government to declare a state of emergency.
Brig. Roshan Senevirathna states that the Sri Lankan army is currently assisting health inspectors in the search for breeding areas of dengue, as well as establishing temporary hospital wards to accept the growing number of patients.
In assessing the actions of the national government, it is necessary to first consider the circumstances which gave rise to the disease. The heavy monsoon season resulted in landslides that devastated Sri Lanka earlier this year. In the midst of reeling from this crisis, concerns for public health and safety were not at the forefront of the effort to re-establish homes and displaced peoples. As ABC News reports, there were a large number of people who were affected by the natural disaster. However, a significant period of time had lapsed before aid was delivered to those affected.
During the recovery process many people, such as Chris McIvor, head of Save the Children Sri Lanka, raised concerns over the potential threat of dengue fever. The most significant issue that gave rise to the current situation is that too little was done, too late. While there were shipments of aid made to address the crisis at the time, there was little foresight in preparing for the imminent repercussions of such a disaster in a country with a tropical climate and an existing predisposition to hosting mosquito-borne diseases.
The outbreak of dengue from a series of landslides has highlighted significant issues in Sri Lanka’s response to threats of security to public health and safety. For instance, there is evidently a greater need for addressing potential health risks before they come to fruition. This situation has also emphasized how imperative the timely distribution of aid is in mitigating risks.