Philippines sees plunge in number of cases with 4pm mozzie hunt

File photo: Employees from the Philippines Department of Health perform a "mosquito dance" with mascots (foreground) to create public awareness of vector-borne diseases in observance of World Health Day in Manila on April 7, 2014.
PHOTO: Philippines sees plunge in number of cases with 4pm mozzie hunt

SINGAPORE - A simple routine has helped the Philippines reduce the number of dengue cases by more than half over the past year.

At 4pm each day, everyone is encouraged to stop work and go on a mosquito hunt.

This includes searching for mosquito breeding spots such as old tyres, where stagnant water can collect, and destroying any larvae found.

This nationwide "4 o'clock habit" has seen significant success.

About 23,900 dengue cases were reported in the first five months of this year - about half the nearly 48,700 cases in the corresponding period last year.

Singapore - with a population a fraction the size of that in the Philippines - reported an all-time high of about 22,000 cases last year. Over the weekend, the Philippines hosted the fourth ASEAN Dengue Summit, which was held in Angeles City.

At the summit, local public health officials reiterated their commitment to fighting the virus multilaterally.

"Dengue is a public health concern that does not respect national boundaries," said Assistant Secretary Gerardo Bayugo of the Philippine Department of Health.

"It has plagued each of our nations for years and years, and regional cooperation is necessary."

Experts estimate that dengue could cost South-east Asia as much as US$950 million (S$1.2 billion) a year.

This figure includes not only the cost of medical care, but also indirect costs such as the value of the time lost by patients and caregivers.

"For most infectious diseases, public health efforts have been successful," said health economist Donald Shepard. "But dengue, unfortunately, has been growing."

One reason, he said, is the movement of people across national borders.

A mosquito becomes infected with the dengue virus when it bites someone whose blood contains the virus. The next person to be bitten by the mosquito then gets infected as well.

"Singapore, for example, has been very successful in controlling dengue for a long time," Dr Shepard said. "But with the movement of people in and out of the country, the numbers have gone up."

This article was first published on June 16, 2014.
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