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Dengue outbreak raises questions in Vanuatu

Is the health ministry capable?

A major dengue fever outbreak in Vanuatu, with several hundred cases recorded in Port Vila and Luganville, has opened serious allegations about the state of the Ministry of Health. The Vanuatu Ministry of Health is now spearheading a campaign to eradicate mosquito breeding sites around Port Vila and Luganville, plus educating people on how to protect themselves from contracting the virus. But there have been claims that the government health team was slow to react and get itself organised.

The outbreak, which began in early January, has seen more than 30 people a day presenting themselves at the hospitals and private clinics with symptoms of the untreatable virus. One the Ministry of Health’s early ‘initiatives’ was to hand out mosquito nets—a fine deterrent against malaria, but basically irrelevant against dengue which is carried by a day-time mosquito most dangerous around dawn and dusk. A spokesman said the problem has been exacerbated because of the four strains of dengue fever, the one behind the outbreak in the country’s two major towns has not been seen in Vanuatu for around 20 years— which has reduced the chances of potential immunity among the population.

The leader of the government’s anti-dengue campaign Dr Laurence Boe said they have mobilised the Ministry of Health and Vector Control and Environmental Health to do public awareness and education. “We have basically divided them into groups which are visiting different communities in Port Vila and Luganville,” he said. “And especially those areas where there are a number of cases and there are education and awareness campaigns advising the community on prevention and destroying the breeding sites.” Dr Boe said there have been recent outbreaks in Fiji, New Caledonia and other Pacific islands. And it is here that the criticism of the Ministry of Health kicks in, with claims the department should have been better prepared given recent outbreaks around the Pacific.

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