Dengue fever death toll: A political and legal responsibility for Taiwan govt

PHOTO: The Straits Times

TAIPEI - A reported 106 deaths nationwide were announced by the Central Epidemic Command Center for Dengue Outbreak yesterday with 90 of the deaths concentrated in Tainan, making the current situation the worst in the past 14 years.

According to the current numbers, Kaohsiung City has reported 14 deaths and Pingtung County has reported two deaths. Nationwide diagnoses of the fever had reached 23,821 as of press time, with 19,621 cases in Tainan, 3,786 in Kaohsiung and 96 in Pingtung County.

The statistics prompt two questions: Who should be held responsible for these 106 deaths, a number that is likely to increase in the following weeks, and how should the responsibility be addressed?

While Centres for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang has stated that there are currently 21,260 cases making a recovery - implying a high recovery rate - it must be said that there has been a lapse in disease control on a governmental level that has caused an increase in dengue fever-related cases and deaths in a very short time.

This year's sharp increase in the severity and the prolonged length of time in combating the outbreak reflects both the central and local governments' slow reaction to addressing the situation.

The Tainan City Government should bear the brunt of the responsibility as it saw the most severe outbreak and the highest death toll. Also, many of the cases reported in other cities and counties were a result of the patient traveling to and from the worst-affected areas, such as Tainan.

The central government cannot shy away from responsibility, though. It failed to centralize combative efforts at the height of the outbreak. Not until the beginning of May, almost four months into the outbreak, did the central government finally set up its central control centre.

Once this unprecedented outbreak is under control, political and legal responsibility must be dealt with. Government officials must face up to their political duties and step down to let more competent officials take the helm.

Investigations must be carried out to look into factors within government sectors that hindered officials from carrying out their duties. People must be held accountable, as this is an institutional failure, a failure that resulted in 106 deaths.

An overhaul of government structures would reflect an increasing desire to raise efforts in combating dengue fever and other tropical diseases. We must also consider the effects from climate change as possible factors in the rising severity of dengue fever outbreaks in recent years.

With the help of the government, citizens nationwide must raise their awareness in combating dengue fever and other tropical diseases. Only then will any sort of government-led efforts come into full effect.