MANILA — “It is normal for dengue cases to rise at this time of the year.” Such is the comment you hear from some of the government’s health officials. The statement is a bitter irony for the community health workers who rallied in front of the Department of Health this Wednesday.
“Where hundreds of thousands get sick by it and where hundreds die because of it at this time of the year, almost every year, is that what the Department of Health (DOH) would call as “normal”? they asked. When a loved one dies or gets critically ill because of dengue, is it not painful to hear from public health executives, whom the people expect to find solutions to these raging epidemics, merely calling the incident as “normal?” they added.
“This callous statement only goes to show how complacent the DOH is on the dengue outbreak,” said Nanay Esther Solidum of the Parañaque-Wide Community Health Workers’ Association.
From January 1 to August 6, the reported dengue cases numbered to more than 45,000 with 34,652 in Luzon, 5,091 in Visayas, and 5,590 in Mindanao. The total number of affected individuals is 33.5 percent lower than last year, and the health department has been capitalizing on that, stressing that in every report, said the health workers associations in some public hospitals that are now groaning under the weight of increased dengue patients.
Despite the boasted decline, some cities and provinces in Luzon saw doubled number of cases compared to last year. In Ilocos Region for example, a 222 percent spike in dengue cases during the first eight months of the year was reported by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
A total of 4,665 dengue cases were recorded in the four provinces of La Union, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, and Ilocos Norte from January to August 2 this year, 222% higher than the 1,450 cases recorded during the same period last year.
In Metro Manila, cases have doubled from last year’s 5,416 to 10,487 within the same period this year. From July 23 to August 6, the National Capital Region has recorded a whopping 1,258 increase. One-third of this is in Quezon City.
“The decline from last year’s statistics should not be seen as an improvement on the government’s end,” lamented Nanay Luzviminda Solayao, a community health worker from Isla Puting Bato in Tondo, Manila and president of AHON-Isla, a people’s organization of urban poor settlers in Tondo.
“One death is one too many, one outbreak is one too many. It is unacceptable to have this disease killing hundreds every year and yet our government is not doing anything significant to eradicate the problem,” said Solayao.
According to Solayao, the places where there are declared dengue outbreaks are in communities of the poor, where “the people’s economic and political capacities are low,” such as in Tondo and some areas in Parañaque. “Dengue Express Lanes” cannot suffice to address the escalating problem either, she said.
Mosquitoes and lack of affordable health care are the problems
“Mosquitoes are not the only culprits in the deaths of dengue victims,” Solidum charged. She explained that since majority of the patients come from impoverished families, they cannot afford to pay for procedures such as complete blood count with monitoring of the platelet count (where decreasing count is alarming). And neither can they afford to pay for needed laboratory procedures for blood transfusion, she added.
The community health workers vowed to launch series of peaceful mass actions in different cities to press the government to take decisive actions in eliminating outbreaks and ensuring that patients are accorded free health services in public hospitals.