Dengue Research Heading Nowhere

The number of dengue fever cases in Malaysia has reached an alerting state during the past few years.  Despite the millions of ringgits been put into a research to find cure for the disease, the outcomes were nothing. No cure and no vaccine, but questions in the mind that starts with; why?

Before plausible answers can be deduced, we need to first understand the nature of the disease and its geographical distribution.

Some doctors argue that if the tropical disease was prevalent in the United States or Europe, more research funding would have been used to produce an effective vaccine.

While such hypo­thesis might be stretched a bit too far, there are no dispu­tes in the fact that dengue cases in Malaysia have reach­­ed an all-time high of almost 100,000 last year.

Despite these alarming statistics, a mutual sense of apathy towards the disease is still widespread. Authorities’ proactivity in taking necessary mosquito control measures is nearly absent. For instance, it took several days, endless complains and relentless phone calls from residents in Petaling Jaya City to force the city Council to finally fog their street.

 “It seems that the authorities don’t move fast enough whenever a case is reported, or the speed at which they act is almost at a snail’s pace. It’s generally a sense of, ‘Oh, it’s just one more case’,” said one of the residents.

Unfortunately, the worst part of our ordeal with dengue isn’t the soaring number of cases or the lack of swift response from authorities, but rather what Datuk Seri Dr. Subramaniam, the Health Minister summed up in few words: “We are back to square one with dengue research”.

Tens of millions of ringgit have been spent by the Health Ministry on dengue research with the promise of releasing genetically altered male Aedes mosquitoes that are expected to reduce female mosquito population by producing more male offspring (male mosquitoes don’t bite human). The research, which seemed promising, has now run out of budget as it was deemed too costly and impractical by the ministry.

The Minister’s statement about research “going nowhere” was an indirect way of admitting that Malaysia has lost the battle against dengue terror.

Despite the discouraging news, our battle with dengue isn’t over yet. Although, millions of people are moving into cities with insufficient housing and basic infrastructure, thus providing ideal conditions for the spread of the disease, there is still a glimpse of hope in reducing the severity of dengue down to what it used to be 10 or 20 years ago.

While stressing the importance of the research, the Minister also stated that public apathy which encourages negative habits such as littering, illegal dumping of garbage and lack of adherence to guidelines in construction sites are issues that demand an urgent interference.

Being a prevalent disease in Malaysia, tackling the dengue issue is no doubt a responsibility that lies on the shoulders of local authorities. However, there is no telling of how serious dengue will become in the future or how far it will stretch geographically.

Despite the relatively low fatality rate of the disease (~%5), all attempt to produce an effective vaccine have failed during the past few years and the scary part is that fact that dengue is now [more serious than what it was decades ago].

All latest statistics and findings are clearly indicating that our true battle with dengue has just started, and it’s going to be a long one. A battle that will demand and worldwide collaborations and funding toward achieving a common goal, finding an effective cure that will bring an abrupt or gradual end to the dengue scourge.



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