SINGAPORE - Dengue is one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in the world and a major cause of fever that international travellers take home with them, said World Health Organisation (WHO) representatives.
Dr Takeshi Kasai, the WHO representative in Vietnam, said as many as 100 million people are infected every year, with about 250,000 coming down with the severe form of the illness.
The number of countries where dengue is now a permanent feature has also gone up.
"While there were only nine countries with severe epidemics before 1970, dengue is now endemic in more than 100 countries," said Dr Kasai at the 3rd ASEAN Dengue Day conference in Hanoi.
In 2010, the health ministers of the 10 ASEAN countries, concerned over the impact dengue has on the region, declared June 15 as ASEAN Dengue Day with both regional and national campaigns against this mosquito-borne disease.
It was inaugurated in Jakarta in 2011, with the second held in Yangon last year. On Satuday, Hanoi hosted the observance ceremony and next year, Manila.
Malaysia launched a song and a five-minute video on Saturday to mark the occasion.
Speaking on Friday at the one-day conference attended by nine ASEAN member states - Brunei was not represented - Dr Kasai said: "Dengue is a disease that has a significant impact on health, economy and the entire society."
His colleague, Dr Babatunde Olowokure, team leader of Emerging Disease Surveillance and Response in Vietnam, spoke of the "explosion of cases in the late 20th century".
Singapore has seen a five-fold increase in cases this year, and Laos a six-fold rise, he said.
WHO is targeting to reduce dengue deaths by 50 per cent, and illness by 25 per cent by 2020, he added.
It is a difficult disease to prevent and control, and no single country can do it alone.
He said: "We need individuals, communities, the private sector and government agencies to work together to fight dengue."
The ASEAN member states each gave an update on dengue in their country and the measures they have undertaken to fight the problem during the one-day conference. All the countries said they were experiencing a rising number of cases, especially in recent years. But the majority also reported relatively fewer deaths.
In his opening address, Associate Professor Nguyen Thanh Long, Vietnam's Vice-Minister for Health, said the observance of ASEAN Dengue Day on Saturday "shows strong determination by member states" to combat the disease.
The target is to find solutions to reduce both illness and death from dengue.
The conference ended with a "Hanoi Call For Action" where the rapid spread of dengue was noted with concern and a call for both individual and community action in the region.
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