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WHO rings the alarm bell on dengue

Putrajaya, Malaysia, 15 October 2010—Dengue has developed into a major threat to global public health, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today, as it warned of a worsening situation if countries do not act now to strengthen their response.

The increased frequency and size of dengue outbreaks in some countries in WHO’s Western Pacific Region and the mosquito-borne disease's expansion in the past few years to areas previously unaffected are signs that firmer action cannot be further delayed, WHO said.

"National resources need to be mobilized to sustain dengue prevention and control, and the disease’s profile needs to be raised on the global health agenda to stimulate the interest of international agencies and donors," WHO’s Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo, said.

Speaking at the annual meeting here of WHO’s Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin called on governments to display strong leadership and commitment, greater advocacy and investment, and better clinical management of cases. Regional collaboration was also vital, he said.

Overall, the number of cases in the Western Pacific Region has more than doubled over the past 10 years. Many countries have experienced a significant increase in cases this year, with the Lao People's Democratic Republic and the Philippines particularly badly hit.

Of the estimated 2.5 billion people at risk of dengue globally, about 1.8 billion—more than 70%—live in Asia Pacific countries.

The meeting was told that some of the reasons for the growing threat from the disease included:

  • Higher temperatures and rainfall in many parts of the region this year, encouraging mosquito breeding.
  • Growing population densities.
  • Greater international travel by infected people.
  • Higher awareness levels and better surveillance systems were also probable factors in some countries.

While there was as yet no clear evidence that the increase in cases was due to global warming, climatic changes play an important role in the nature of mosquitoes, including the aedes aegypti, which is responsible for the spread of dengue.

Addressing the meeting, Dr Hans Troedsson, the Western Pacific Region’s Director for Programme Management, underlined the need for governments to take a broad approach to the problem, involving urban planning, sanitation and environment. “This is not just a health problem,” he said. “This is an inter-sectoral problem.”

At a community level, elimination of mosquito breeding sites, such as water jars, building sites and discarded garbage, is essential, Dr Shin said. “The fight against this disease is everybody’s problem.”

Although considerable efforts have been made to strengthen national dengue prevention and control programmes since the endorsement of WHO’s Dengue Strategic Plan for the Asia Pacific Region (2008-2015), countries need to keep pace with the rapidly changing incidence and distribution of the disease, WHO said.

The meeting heard that dengue surveillance is an important component of national dengue programmes. While Singapore has had more cases in recent months than in the same period last year, the total number of cases continues to drop year by year. This may be attributed to the country's unique dengue outbreak and response system—which includes intersectoral collaboration during and between outbreaks—and a sensitive surveillance system that continues to operate between outbreaks.

To view the French version

For media-related queries or interview requests, please contact:

Marilu Lingad
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Peter Cordingley
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