Trying to Stop Dengue Fever with an Inadequate Fumigation Campaign

The racket wasn’t coming from a machine in the sky but from an old fumigation truck of the Comunales company. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 11 August 2022 — Early Thursday morning, the inhabitants of Nuevo Vedado in Havana woke up startled by the roar of what seemed to be a small plane, flying over the streets of the city. However, when they went out to their balconies, they noticed that the noise didn’t come from a flying machine, but from an old fumigation truck of the Comunales* company.

The vehicle dispensed its smoke on the streets, sidewalks and ditches, so that the gas would reach the numerous mosquitos that nest after the summer downpours. It’s a random measure, but one urgently decreed by the Government, which has always lacked a systematic and coherent strategy against the aedes aegypti mosquito which transmits dengue fever.

Another Public Health measure has been the sending of medical personnel to inspect residential buildings in the area. But even when time and human resources are allocated for this, doctors must face multiple daily setbacks on the island.

A doctor on her way to inspect a building in the area entered the elevator to evaluate the upper floors and, between one level and another, was trapped by a power outage. Had one of the neighbors of the building, already accustomed to the “rescue” during blackouts, not come, the woman would have remained there, locked in the elevator until two in the afternoon, when the electricity was scheduled to return.

Other neighbors have filed complaints with Public Health, since health workers appear in homes during the most inappropriate hours, when people need to go to work or out to the street. Their presence must be validated; it’s “mandatory” and decreed by the Government.

As if that weren’t enough, the proliferation of dengue hemorrhagic fever and other mosquito-borne diseases are at their most critical point. The most recent report presented by the Minister of Public Health pointed out, as causes, “vacations” and the “period of rain and intense heat,” but concluded, with the usual rhetoric, that the only possible measure is “surveillance, timely admission, trained personnel, adequate treatment and closing ranks in the areas of greatest risk.”

In contrast to the official optimism, the minister offered concrete data on the transmission of dengue fever in 11 provinces, 23 municipalities and 33 health areas of the island. During the last week of July, the incidence rate of suspected dengue cases increased by 35.5% compared to the previous week, with an average of 68.3 cases recorded per day, mainly in Havana, Holguín, Isla de la Juventud, Guantánamo and Camagüey.

A report published in Tribuna de La Habana reported that “intensive fumigation” vehicles similar to those of Nuevo Vedado will circulate in the municipality of Playa. The proliferation of insect-borne viruses, which include dengue, Zika and chikungunya, especially affects the coastal area of Havana, where outbreaks abound.

According to Manuel Bravo Fleitas, Director of Health in this municipality in the west of the city, there is a map that records the most affected blocks and the nuclei of dengue transmission, which includes the local polyclinic.

The most frequent practice in this and other municipalities of the island has been home care and the sporadic follow-up of patients. The symptoms that indicate the condition, which neighbors must report to the health directors, are fever, muscle and eye pain, in addition to fatigue and exhaustion.

“Playa shows a similar behavior to the rest of the Havana territories in terms of the number of cases and the number of fevers, with an average of 100-120 per day,” the report says.

As the situation becomes increasingly alarming, the Community Services procedure continues to respond to a precarious pattern: workers irrigate puddles, tanks and swimming pools with little bottles of diluted insecticide. Fumigation devices, in addition to being old and very annoying, usually don’t have the necessary maintenance and fuel, and neighborhoods continue to suffer from unhealthy conditions and systematic deterioration.

Abandoned and collapsing buildings are ideal sources for mosquito nesting, in addition to numerous rubbish dumps and common areas that are barely cleaned of grass and garbage. The impossibility of ventilating houses properly, due to frequent blackouts, facilitates the scenario for night bites of mosquitoes.

Added to this panorama is the fact that Cuba is far from having satisfactory control of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hospitals have a more worrying lack, that of medical supplies, which are indispensable for treatment and recovery from these diseases.

*Translator’s note: Servicios Comunales is a public company in charge of services such as garbage collection, mosquito control, and others.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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