As Dengue Season Peaks Cambodia Runs Out of Defenses

 

Thursday, August 9, 2007

By Emily Lodish

The Cambodia Daily

 

At the height of the dengue fever season, the Health Ministry has run out of the larvicide chemical that is the best defense against the mosquito-borne illness, but more is on the way, health officials said Tuesday.
 

Duong Socheat, director of the National Malaria Center, which runs the national dengue program, said that 50 tons of Abate -which is used to prevent mosquitoes from reproducing in clean water-was distributed in 19 provinces and municipalities most prone to dengue fever this year, and there is none left.
 

As of Aug 2, more than 29,000 cases of dengue fever had been reported and 316 people, most of them children, had died from the virus, according to government figures.
 

"We need 50 or 60 more tons of Abate for a second round," Duong Socheat said, adding that Abate needs to be reapplied every two to three months. 
 

About 25 tons of Abate are on the way from the World Health Organization, and further supplies may be sent through help from the International Red Cross and the World Bank, he added.
 

Searching for an alternative, the dengue program has begun a pilot project in 17 villages of Kompong Speu province's Samraong Tong district that involves distributing the "seven-color fish," also known as guppies, which feed off mosquito larvae.
 

The average seven-color fish, whose maximum length is four centimeters, can eat 100 larvae a day. Two to three fish are enough to keep a large water jug larvae-free, To Setha said. With support from WHO, the ministry has begun to raise the fish with the goal of distributing them elsewhere in the country.
 

"There have been very few cases of dengue in the villages with the project," he said of the guppy method. "It is cheap and sustainable."
 

Abate, by contrast, costs approximately $5,000 per ton, according to Health Ministry dengue program manager Ngan Chantha.

And as the government has relied heavily on Abate and other expensive chemicals, mosquitoes have become more resistant, which could pose serious problems in the future.
 

Projects using guppies to control dengue have also been tried in recent years by British NGO Care International in Banteay Meanchey province, said Sek Sisokhom, a Care health program coordinator.
 

"They are very good and very effective," she said. However, some families are afraid to put fish in their drinking water, and changing people's behavior can be difficult, she added.
 

Duong Socheat said that water with the fish in it is drinkable. The fish is a good alternative to Abate in water jugs, although it does not solve the problem of mosquitoes breeding in water that gathers around houses or at construction sites, he added.
 

Another downside to using seven-color fish is that about 25 percent of the fish have gone missing each month in the villages, according to To Setha.
 

This has been puzzling pilot-program people, although they suspect children to be the culprit, he said.
 

"Children find them beautiful and want to play with them," To Setha said.