The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Dengue in the Philippines: Beyond Health Security Implications

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on October 11, 2010
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Southeast Asia is a site for many emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), one of which is the omnipresent dengue fever. The disease is caused by the aedes aegypti mosquito which breeds in stagnant water and thrives in Southeast Asia’s hot, humid tropical climate.  At the end of last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that dengue was becoming one of the fastest emerging infectious diseases in light of a rapid rise in cases across Southeast Asia and the greater Asia Pacific region. In the same statement, the WHO also identified the Philippines as one of the countries hardest hit by dengue.

Last month, the DoH declared dengue outbreaks in six villages within the Central Visayas area, with over 8,000 cases, 63 of which were fatal. Following that, the Philippine Department of Health (DoH) announced that it had recorded a total of over 90,000 dengue cases since January this year – more than double the cases recorded in 2009. Of this number, more than 500 cases have resulted in death.

In the case of the Philippines, there have been repeated calls for a multi-pronged approach to tackle the dengue problem: education on hygiene, the aspect currently being emphasised by the government in a series of anti-dengue campaigns, is only one aspect of protection against dengue.

Non-governmental progressive health, women’s and environmentalist groups in the Philippines have declared their dissatisfaction with how the government has tackled the dengue outbreak situation thus far. They argue that beyond sanitation issues, the dengue problem in the Philippines is exacerbated by problems of poverty, underdevelopment, poor urban planning, deforestation and inadequate public health facilities to cope with disease load.

Even within government, there has been backlash: the Senate President strongly criticised the DoH for allocating more money towards family planning than towards the eradication of dengue. Additionally, the Philippine Council for Health and Development also alleged that the spike in dengue cases in the Philippines “mirrors a government that puts its people’s health behind debt servicing and military spending”, in a scathing critique of the new government of Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III.

It is evident that the growing spread of dengue in the Philippines  has sparked intense debate over health security’s inextricable links with other issues such as development, urbanisation and environmental security and protection. For example, it has been argued that unmonitored population growth in urban areas have contributed to the rise in dengue, as high density areas are more prone to dengue outbreak. Urban planning problems have also been cited as a potential cause for the rise  in dengue, with stagnant swimming pools in abandoned houses identified as mosquito larva breeding ground.

It is therefore essential that further engagement, collaboration and cooperation between and among actors across various sectors be undertaken in order to effectively eradicate the problem.

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