Dengue outbreaks threaten children across Asia as extreme weather spurs mosquitos
BANGKOK, 24 July 2023 – A spike in dengue fever outbreaks across Asia is putting children at risk with the situation set to get worse in the coming weeks as floods, heatwaves and potential impacts of the El Niño weather event create perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos, Save the Children warned.
Bangladesh is facing its worst dengue fever outbreak in five years and has seen a huge spike in hospitalisations, recording more than 22,000 cases and about 114 deaths, including 24 children so far this year. Thailand has recorded 36,000 cases from January to July – four times the cases reported at the same time last year – with children aged five to 14 bearing the brunt of the outbreak as the worst affected age group.
Countries such as Malaysia and Cambodia are also seeing a surge in dengue cases and reporting much higher case numbers compared with 2022. Malaysia has reported about 54,100 cases so far this year, a 149% increase compared to last year, while Cambodia has reported about 4,670 cases, almost double its 2022 figures.
Dengue fever is contracted via the Aedes aegypti or yellow fever mosquito and can cause flu-like symptoms, including high fevers and severe headaches and body aches, and in extreme cases can cause organ failure and death.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the disease because their immune systems are weaker than adults and they tend to play outside where there's less protection against the mosquitos.
The changing climate and more frequent and extreme weather events – such as the severe monsoon floods and soaring temperatures currently impacting countries in Asia – are fuelling the spread of mosquitos, which means longer dengue seasons and a wider geographic distribution of the disease. In Nepal, for example, dengue is now being reported at much higher altitudes thanks to the warmer climate.
Flooding, storms and rising sea levels can increase mosquito populations as it provides them with shallow, stagnant pools of water where they can reproduce.
The World Health Organisation has also warned that the impacts of the current El Niño climate pattern, which is predicted to trigger extreme weather events including droughts and flooding in Asia, will increase the spread of diseases like dengue.
Globally, there has been a 30-fold increase in the number of dengue cases over the past 50 years. It's also been estimated that among the 3.9 billion people at risk of dengue, 70% of them reside in the Asia-Pacific.
Dr Yasir Arafat, Save the Children's Senior Health and Nutrition Advisor for the Asia Region, said:
"Across Asia, extreme weather events are throwing the lives of children into disarray and this alarming surge in severe dengue outbreaks is just another issue impacting their physical and mental health. With climate change and the predicted impacts of the El Niño event threatening to trigger even more extreme weather across the region, the situation could get worse.
"Children's lives can be saved if we take a comprehensive approach to tackling the threat. We need to train and equip healthcare workers to diagnose and treat dengue, scale up preventive measures to eradicate the mosquito breeding sites, and increase public information campaigns so children and their families understand how to protect themselves using screens, mosquito nets and repellent, and removing stagnant water around the home.
"We must see an increase in funding and resources towards solutions that better anticipate extreme weather and other shocks globally, and that put children's rights at the heart of each response."
Across Asia, Save the Children provides public healthcare for children and their families, including treatment for diseases like dengue, and works with schools and communities to improve awareness on how to prevent infection. The agency also works in partnership with the World Mosquito Programme in some countries to help reduce the spread of dengue.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- As of 8 June 2023, an El Niño event has been declared and the projected impacts paint a worrying picture for children across the world. El Niño is a temporary and natural warming of parts of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, that can trigger extreme weather events globally − from fierce droughts, wildfires and heatwaves to deadly flooding and tropical storms.
- Although El Niño events are natural and cyclical, the impacts are being aggravated by the climate crisis. This El Niño is likely to trigger a new spike in global heating. Scientists predict that it is extremely likely one of the next five years will be the hottest year on record.
- Data referenced in this document is accurate as of 19 July 2023.
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