This article was originally published on Politics Home.
Whilst cases of malaria are finally on the decline, Malaria Consortium argues a long-term global programme is needed to quell dengue fever, one of the fastest growing infectious diseases.
Dengue is one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in the world, spreading from nine countries to over one hundred in the past 50 years. In this time, the disease burden has risen from 15,000 cases per year in the 1960s to 390 million today, more than half the population of Europe. Given the enormity of the health, social and economic impacts of dengue, the international community needs to concentrate more efforts in controlling the disease.
Despite almost half the world’s population living in dengue-endemic countries, global attention to this rapidly-spreading vector-borne disease has been almost non-existent. Other vector-borne diseases tend to get much more global development attention, particularly malaria which, as of 2015, still kills over 400,000 people each year.
However, whilst the global burden of malaria is on the decline, Aedes mosquitoes – which transmit dengue and the high-profile Zika virus – have spread into warmer areas of high-income countries including Australia, the US, southern Europe, and Africa. In most tropical countries, dengue fever continues to exert a huge burden on populations, health systems and economies and is a significant threat to global public health. In 2010, all six World Health Organization (WHO) regions recorded dengue fever and indigenous outbreaks were reported for the first time in Europe.
Dengue is classified as one of 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and shares many of the characteristics that define an NTD. However, even within NTD circles, it has often been overlooked. In the London Declaration on NTDs of 2012 a commitment was made by every major global partner to control or eliminate at least 10 of these diseases by the end of the decade, but dengue was not included in this.
Since then, whilst remarkable progress has been made against the majority of these 10 NTDs, there has been a major lack of investment in dengue prevention and control which has also been mirrored by a lack of policy dialogue within the international community and among governments. We have not seen the same high-profile announcements or a commitment to tracking data and progress for dengue. Simply put, it remains neglected.
Like malaria and other NTDs, dengue is predominantly a disease of poverty and often affects the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Overall, the costs of dengue can be double, or even triple, the average monthly income of a family. As the world begins to implement the Sustainable Development Goals under the remit of Leave No One Behind, now is the time to raise the profile of this disease and mobilise the world into action against it.
There needs to be a shift from responding to isolated outbreaks of dengue on an ad-hoc basis and focus on developing long-term, integrated programming, including community-level initiatives leading to sustainable behaviour change. This can be done by equipping communities with essential knowledge concerning hygiene and environmental sanitation, training and engaging community health volunteers to identify and refer suspected dengue cases and improving community-based disease surveillance.
The UK Government has a central role to play in supporting these efforts to combat dengue and we urge them to move the disease up their list of priorities so that this issue is at the very least brought under control. Endemic countries must contribute to these efforts, of course, but progress will not be made without the support of donor countries. As we mark World Health Day on the 7 April, Malaria Consortium hopes that dengue will cease being an ignored issue and that the UK and international community will pay more attention to addressing this unfolding health disaster.
To find our further information about what is needed to defeat dengue, please watch our animation below
To find out more about Malaria Consortium’s own dengue work, please click here.
Keywords: Advocacy and policy