The Pacific has been dealt a third, unwelcome blow as dengue fever surges amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and just weeks after the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Harold.
Fiji and the Marshall Islands have been hardest hit, with around 4,000 cases reported in both nations.
In Fiji, 700 dengue fever infections, primarily in children, have been reported in regions that had severe flooding and infrastructural damage as a result of the cyclone.
"In Fiji, the destruction by the cyclone resulted in water sources being contaminated, and increased challenges with wastewater removal,” Dewindra Widiamurti, the Pacific health manager at the Red Cross, wrote in a media release. “People who lost their homes are now living in evacuation centers, where social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, potentially making it easier for mosquitoes to spread the virus.”
More than 700 cases of #Dengue fever have been reported in areas of #Fiji most affected by #TCHarold. #MarshallIslands is also dealing with an ongoing outbreak. #RedCross actions are critical in reducing the risks.https://t.co/io7tRjUNpB— IFRC Asia Pacific (@IFRCAsiaPacific) May 19, 2020
The dengue fever outbreak in the Marshall Islands was first reported last year, and it has now progressed to the worst outbreak ever recorded in the nation’s history.
Widiamurti fears COVID-19 could become a “double burden” to already vulnerable individuals throughout the country.
"Two people have died of the fever since the outbreak started. We are concerned that COVID-19 might become a double burden to the affected communities,” he said. “Hygiene advice shared by the Red Cross volunteers is vital in the effort to prevent the spread of these diseases and limit mosquito breeding sites and the risk of being bitten.”
According to the World Health Organization, dengue fever — a mosquito-borne tropical disease — has increased 15-fold in the past two decades, from 505,430 cases in 2000 to 3,312,040 in 2015.
Deaths from 2000 to 2015 grew from 960 to over 4,000.
Experts claim the increase in cases can be attributed to factors like globalization, human settlement, and climate change.
"The longer-term global increase in the number of dengue-affected countries and dengue incidence over the past several decades could be affected by climate change, population growth, urbanization, increased travel, and poor implementation of effective control measures,” a 2019 report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security states. “This interplay of factors has contributed to the expansion of countries or regions that either did not previously have dengue or have not experienced outbreaks in recent years (decades in some cases), including the United States.”
The current outbreak in the Pacific follows similar fatal outbreaks in recent years across nations like the Philippines, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and the Solomon Islands.