- Doctors' confirmation on Tuesday of suspicions a new,
previously unknown sub-variant of the dengue virus is responsible for a
virulent outbreak accross the country adds to the graveness of a situation
already rated "extraordinary" by the government. This is all
the more so because the Asian bird flu has yet to be brought fully under
- What led the government -- in this case, the Ministry
of Health -- to issue the "extraordinary situation" rating was
the dengue death rate, which by mid-month reached more than 1 percent of
the number of patients treated. Dengue cases during the past few weeks
were more than twice the number recorded over the same period last year.
- Dengue hemorrhagic fever deaths normally peak in more
or less regular cycles of between five and six years and are therefore
usually taken in stride by the public and authorities alike.
- Although the statistics made available still continue
to change, a few simple figures may illustrate the seriousness of the outbreak
this time around. Since Jan. 1 at least 8,135 people have been hospitalized
with dengue fever across the country, a 200 percent increase on last year.
- The disease has so far affected at least 2,046 people
in Jakarta, of whom 16 have died, with more having succumbed in the areas
surrounding the capital city. In West Java, the province bordering on Jakarta,
at least 1,076 people have been infected with dengue, and at least 20 have
died. Cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever have also been found in the tourist
destinations of Yogyakarta and Bali. Nationwide, the latest death toll
yesterday was 161.
- Given the seriousness of the situation, health authorities
have called on the public to get checkups from a competent doctor as soon
as they feel a higher-than-ordinary fever beginning to develop. Many of
the patients who have died, especially babies and the under-fives, have
succumbed because the disease was diagnosed too late. Hospital doctors
have admitted that being unaware of the speed with which the current dengue
virus could replicate, they had been wrong in their initial diagnosis of
the disease. Doctors have been instructed to give priority to the treatment
of dengue patients to save lives and to stop the disease from spreading
- At this stage of developments, research is continuing
to identify the precise nature of the virus responsible for the current
outbreak. That, and taking precautionary measures such as issuing warnings,
educating the public and fumigation, especially in poor and crowded neighborhoods,
appears to be all the authorities can do. This falls short of the provisions
contained in Law No. 23/92, which says the government is responsible for
totally eradicating preventable diseases.
- One can understand, of course, that financial and other
constraints are currently limiting the government's ability to fully undertake
this responsibility. Besides, if it is true that a new strain of the dengue
virus is involved, one can also understand the government being caught
off guard by its virulence.
- Still, given the fact that dengue fever fatalities tend
to reach their peak in cycles, Indonesians are justified to ask why no
steps were taken to at least soften the deadly impact of the present outbreak.
- Against the background of the authorities' apparent lack
of preparedness in facing the recent SARS and bird flu outbreaks, the question
seems a pertinent one.
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