“The NEA has fined the contractors involved between $1,000 and $5,000 while households found breeding mosquitoes were fined $200” (Dengue Up: Over 160 Hit Each Week, Mr. Salma Khalik).
The report, “Dengue Up: Over 160 Hit Each Week” (October 15, 2010) by Mr. Salma Khalik: the rapid outbreak and spread of dengue cases in the matter of weeks is alarming, and brings into question whether enough has been done on the part of the authorities in the prevention and mitigation phases. The extent of the outbreak – in terms of geographical infections and the significant number of individuals who have been affected – should provide much-needed impetus for the National Environment Agency (NEA) to considerably enhance its capacities, so as to address potential outbreaks and infections in a more timely and effective manner.
Most importantly, the NEA needs to take the responsibility for not being efficient enough in their efforts to locate and destroy the primary mosquito breeding grounds. What confounds many is the fact that doctors first report infection cases to the Ministry of Health (MOH), before the latter disseminates the information to the NEA. Would this added level of bureaucracy not compromise the element of speed in the agency’s responses? Why should doctors not be granted direct and immediate communication with the NEA under these circumstances; particularly so when the outbreaks are of a similar nature? As the latest instances have reflected, the various delays in the operations have only led to increased dangerous cases across the island.
Further approaches and platforms can be undertaken to address the perennial problem of dengue infections. Beyond setting guidelines for contractors of construction sites to maintain their working areas and reduce mosquito breeding sites, the NEA can also consider working with the MOH and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to review the living standards of the workers. Contextualised awareness and capacity-building channels could be adopted to educate the workers on ways to prevent or slow down profuse and repeated breeding or infections: through ridding breeding habitats, isolating suspected cases in air-conditioned rooms, reporting sick when needed et cetera.
Public advocacy programmes should be beefed up simultaneously to prevent spread in housing areas. NEA should not naively assume that every household is properly equipped with the know-how and information on dengue and the breeding habitats of Aedes mosquitoes; and should look at how it could alter its public information campaigns to address the current status quo.
For errant contractors and households, ignorance cannot be relied upon as an excuse because the ramifications of a continuous and widespread dengue proliferation can be deadly or downright dangerous. The fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 seem a tad light for such glaring and serious negligence; the administration has the responsibility to keep companies and contractors strictly in check, and should not hesitate to slap harsher punishments. If necessary, the operational and manpower capacities of the NEA can be increased, such that the abilities of the agency are secured, to deal with future concerns more effectively and efficiently.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.