INTERVIEW of Eric Sam-Vah: Raising awareness about dengue fever
Since 2011, the French Red Cross’ Regional Intervention Platform in the Indian Ocean (PIROI – Plateforme d’intervention régionale de l’océan Indien) has been running an awareness campaign in Reunion to advise inhabitants about the risks of natural disasters. It is named Paré pas Paré, which roughly translates as “Ready or Not?”. In 2018, as a dengue fever epidemic struck the island, the project was expanded to include public health disasters. This vector-borne disease is spread by mosquitoes and may be more likely to develop as a consequence of climate change.
We ask three questions about this issue to Eric Sam-Vah, deputy head of the PIROI delegation in charge of disaster risk management.
When did the dengue fever epidemic appear in Reunion ?
There was a dengue fever epidemic in the Seychelles in 2015, which affected about 5,000 people, and it was then imported into Reunion in 2016. However, it was always quite sporadic. By 2017, there were still a few lingering cases. But it was during the wet season from late 2017 to early 2018 that we saw dengue fever transmissions start to rise. In August 2018, there were more than 6,500 confirmed cases, and a further 20,000 suspected cases were also recorded. These are the highest numbers seen on Reunion for 40 years and specialists fear that the epidemic will be four times bigger this year, with 120,000 projected cases.
To what extent can we link this disease to climate change in the Indian Ocean region ?
Several notable phenomena have emerged. First of all, 2018 was the hottest year on record since 1964. For several years now, the rainy season from mid-October to March has been getting longer, while temperatures and rainfall levels have risen to the point of setting a new record last year. In addition to all this, natural disasters are happening more often and are getting increasingly intense. In 2018, five cyclones were recorded near Reunion between January and April, which is rather rare. Add to this all the unusual, unpredictable events like Cyclone Fakir, which went from being a cloud to a tropical cyclone in 24 hours before dissipating just another few hours later. Successive storms and rainfall slow down the evaporation of stagnant water and foster the build-up of plant waste, making perfect potential homes for the larvae of the Aedes (or tiger) mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, encouraging their proliferation.
What are PIROI’s solutions for combating mosquitoes?
We have based our work against vector-borne diseases on three key initiatives: helping people to protect themselves against bites, destroying egg deposit sites, and encouraging people to see the doctor if they get even the most minor symptom. Several measures have been taken by the Agence Régionale de Santé (or Regional Health Agency) and local authorities. These include implementing a monitoring system with sentinel doctors who flag up any suspected cases, insecticide spraying and cleaning up waste. Our role is to raise awareness among the local population. We have adapted a game created by the Climate Centre called “A Buzz about Dengue”, so that we can inform people about the potential risks and the preventative measures they can take. In cooperation with the town council, the Regional Health Agency and local authorities, we make appearances at public meetings, markets, fairs and sports or cultural events. Volunteers are specially trained for this task, and also perform door-to-door operations. We have based our work on our experience with chikungunya. A third of the population, or 240,000 people, were infected during the 2006 epidemic, and over 200 people died.
This news is related to one of the 12 themes of the World Conference on Health and Climate Change.
You can find all the information on the theme “Preventing epidemics: a community- and public-health-oriented approach “.