Despite warnings from the World Health Organisation, health officials are confident of Cambodia's disease readiness
A child awaits treatment at a hospital during the 2007 dengue epidemic.
GOVERNMENT health officials say the country is ready to cope with a fresh outbreak of dengue fever, despite warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that up to two billion people in Asia could be vulnerable to infection in the event of a fresh epidemic.
In discussion papers released Tuesday at a regional committee meeting in Manila, the WHO said the virus "has greatly expanded over the last three decades" due to changes in weather patterns, migration and rapid urbanisation, noting that some Asian governments were yet to take effective action against the disease.
"Dengue is a neglected disease that gains attention during an epidemic," the WHO said. "[But] many Asia-Pacific countries lack adequate resources and have limited response capacities" to respond adequately to major outbreaks.
But Chang Moh Seng, a dengue specialist working for the WHO in Cambodia, said the government was well-placed to deal with future outbreaks, and hailed the drop in transmission rates from 39,000 last year to just 6,236 so far in 2008. "Outbreaks cannot be predicted, so we always have to be prepared," he said. "I think the government is ready for an outbreak, and the outbreak season [for 2008] is almost over."
National Malaria Centre Director Duong Socheat said Cambodia's health authorities had learned from last year's outbreaks and were increasingly successful at combating dengue. "The rate of death by dengue fever is less than in other countries," he said, noting that there have been just 50 deaths from dengue so far this year, compared with 407 in 2007. "In early 2008 the centre took measures to strengthen education and training in the prevention of the disease," he said.
Cheamon Thavy, director of the dengue health education unit at the National Malaria Centre, said the government's health and community education programs had contributed to a marked decrease in transmission rates.
"Through our local education programs, people have learned to take affected children to the hospital straight away," she said. "Our education programs have been in place since 2004, and around 80 percent of the population are now educated about the virus."
Chang Moh Seng agreed that education and cooperation were vital to protecting against the disease. "The government realises that for dengue control [it] need[s] more input from NGOs, the international community and local communities. This year, we actually have improved the collaboration between agencies ... an important aspect of preventing outbreaks," he said.