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Pakistan: Dengue Response Operation Update Report n° 1, DREF Operation n° MDRPK022

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Description of the disaster

Dengue fever is a year-round and nationwide risk in Pakistan. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) Islamabad, 22,938 dengue fever cases were reported in Pakistan in 2017, more than 3,200 in 2018, 24,547 cases in 2019 and 3,442 cases in 2020. From 1 January to 25 November 2021, a total of 48,906 cases including 183 deaths (Case Fatality Ratio (CFR): 0.4%) have been reported in the country. The year 2021 also saw a rise in cases especially in Lahore and the twin cities, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. During the latter half of 2021, Islamabad faced a continuous rise in dengue fever cases, leading to severe pressure on public and private hospitals, according to the District Health Officer (DHO). While the Punjab Government effectively responded to the virus spread in Lahore, the MOH requested PRCS’s support for controlling the disease outbreak in Rawalpindi and Islamabad on 12 October 2021, in a meeting with the Secretary General of PRCS.

Islamabad was facing a continuous rise in dengue fever cases during October and November 2021. This had built up pressure on the public and private hospitals amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In Islamabad, dengue larvae were found at 53 different spots during the anti-dengue surveillance in the city. The highest number of cases have been reported in Tarlai Kalan, followed by Koral, Alipur and Tarnol.

Dengue infection can be asymptomatic in some cases – individuals do not exhibit symptoms. Those who exhibit symptoms become ill four to seven days after the mosquito bite. The infection is characterized by flu-like symptoms, including a sudden high fever that comes in waves, pain behind the eyes, muscle, joint, and bone pain, severe headache, and a skin rash with red spots. In Pakistan, it is a widely held belief that people do not consult doctors unless a situation becomes very serious. Dengue symptoms are like malaria, and many people rely on home remedies rather than seeing a doctor. This mentality contributes to the worsening of the situation.

Health education is a critical component of any vector control programme, providing the general public with accurate information and scientific knowledge about transmitted diseases and their vectors. Knowledge of the vector’s life cycle, ecology, and biology enables people to understand the virus and thus promotes healthy practices.

The dengue fever outbreak in Rawalpindi and Islamabad is gradually coming to its seasonal close, though sporadic cases of the infection were reported in districts as recently as mid-December. Despite the onset of the winter season, dengue cases continue to be reported in Government hospitals.