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Pacific Islands: Dengue Fever Another Blow For The Pacific

Taraivini Kabuta, Fiji Red Cross volunteer shares a message about COVID-19 transmissions through a window to a family in Uciwai Settlement, Fiji

As the Pacific Islands battle to keep Covid-19 out, and continues to reel from the aftermath of the Tropical Cyclone Harold, they are fighting another battle: Dengue Fever.

More than 3000 cases of dengue fever have been reported in both Fiji and the Marshall Islands, but several more islands are at risk.

There are now 700 confirmed cases of dengue fever in areas of Fiji that were most affected by Tropical Cyclone Harold. The majority of new cases are children under the age of 18.

As of 6 May, the Marshall Islands has reported more than 1,360 cases of dengue-like illness, of which more than 1,560 have been laboratory confirmed.

Dr. Dewindra Widiamurti, Red Cross Pacific Health Manager, says: “In Fiji, the destruction by the cyclone resulted in water sources being contaminated, and increased challenges with wastewater removal. People who lost their homes are now living in evacuation centres, where social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, potentially making it easier for mosquitos to spread the virus.”

This situation is coupled with a shortage of safe water, which increases the health risks to displaced people, not only from dengue fever but also from other waterborne and mosquito-spread diseases. If COVID-19 entered these evacuation centres, it could also create an increased risk of spread, as lack of hygiene also facilitates the transmission of COVID-19.

Following the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Fiji, the Government responded immediately by isolating the person and carrying out thorough contact tracing, as well as tightening its national and international travel. Although Fiji has not reported a new COVID-19 case since 20 April 2020, the Government is advising the community to remain vigilant and international travel restriction continues. Tropical Cyclone Harold hit the country in early April, at the same time as the COVID-19 response was rolling out. The dengue outbreak has further complicated the health situation.

The Marshall Islands dengue fever outbreak began in July 2019 and is considered the worst outbreak in the country’s history.

Dr Widiamurti says: “We hope the outbreak is declining, as dengue fever is unpleasant and possibly life threatening. 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. 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.”

Since the outbreak was first reported, the Marshall Islands Red Cross Society has been actively visiting villages and communities to build awareness and promote measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bite.

The Fiji Red Cross have now also mobilised trained volunteers to conduct health education and hygiene promotion. They visit villages throughout the high-risk areas to build awareness and knowledge, simultaneously sharing COVID-19 hygiene precaution measures.

Since the outbreak was first reported, The Marshall Islands Red Cross has been actively visiting villages and communities to build awareness and promote measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bite.

The Fiji Red Cross have now also mobilized trained volunteers to conduct health education and hygiene promotion. They visit villages throughout the high-risk areas to build awareness and knowledge, simultaneously sharing COVID-19 hygiene precaution measures.

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