However, Timor-Leste is struggling with another health crisis which proves to be more lethal. This is the dengue fever crisis that the country is witnessing. To date, more than a thousand cases have been officially recorded and around 10 patients have died from dengue hemorrhagic fever.
These numbers reflect just the reported cases of patients who go to formal healthcare centers. The reality on the ground is that the vast majority of Timorese don’t go to these healthcare centers. It is not uncommon to hear of people dying of fever (“isin manas”). We don’t exactly know how many of these sad deaths are due to dengue.
Every crisis also offers opportunities for the common good. The nation is faced with the enormous task of rebuilding Timor-Leste’s economy due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The government has been looking at implementing various initiatives toward this end. One of the initiatives discussed includes the possibility of providing every household with a certain amount of money to ensure they can go through this crisis with their basic needs met.
Against this backdrop, there is an opportunity to tackle both dengue fever, help boost the economic recovery and support the environment simultaneously.
Dengue fever is caused by the dengue virus that is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. This mosquito primarily breeds in stagnant water.
Stagnant water is mainly an education, hygiene and sanitation problem. Clogged up drains, puddles and containers such as old tyres that hold water are among some of the common breeding grounds for the Aedes mosquito.
Eliminating these breeding grounds requires a nationwide community effort. It cannot be done by just people working for the government in municipalities. It cannot be done only by health care workers. Every suco, every aldeia, every community must play their role in a massive coordinated effort to eliminate the Aedes mosquito breeding grounds.
Toward this end, perhaps the government should look at combining the economic support efforts with the community efforts to create a cleaner and healthier Timor-Leste.
Perhaps a plan should be further developed to distribute economic recovery packages for villages ONLY AFTER municipal officers have inspected the area and concluded that the villagers have cleaned up all the places that could potentially be breeding grounds for Aedes mosquitoes. As such, the citizens are not given free handouts, but rather learn to keep their villages clean.
There are many benefits of such a plan. Among them are:
- Communities work together towards the common good.
- The nation as a whole will be educated about health, hygiene, sanitation and dengue fever right down to grassroots level.
- As stagnant water is mainly caused by plastic clogging up drainage outlets and junk piling up, the community will quickly learn about why the government is implementing a zero plastic policy. The hands on cleaning effort will enlighten them on the importance of proper garbage disposal.
- Cleaner villages, so the environment benefits too.
- The government will be able to deliver its economic recovery package that will help support the citizens through this crisis.
In conclusion, given the serious attention and amount of resources the government has poured into the Covid19 crisis, shouldn’t it pay the same efforts to combatting dengue fever that occurs year after year? Perhaps it is a perfect time to solve two problems with one initiative as the saying goes!
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