Colombo braces for dengue outbreak

In an effort to mitigate the risk of dengue, a Colombo city worker sprays potential breeding grounds for the vector-borne disease
(Udara Soysa/IRIN)

Health officials are stepping up their efforts to avert a dengue outbreak in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.


According to the Ministry of Health's Epidemiology Unit, 1,806 dengue cases were reported in the city of more than half a million people in May, resulting in nine deaths, for a total 95 deaths this year.

In 2009, 4,813 cases were reported, with 42 deaths, in Colombo.


“We are taking this situation seriously,” chief medical officer for the Colombo Municipal Council, Pradeep Kariyawasam, told IRIN. Teams of city workers are now going door-to-door to inspect homes and schools for possible breeding grounds for the vector-borne disease, Kariyawasam said, while at the same time raising awareness among residents.


Any container or surface where stagnant water can accumulate is a problem, Kariyawasam added.   


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the removal of mosquito breeding sites is the most important step in mitigating risk.  


Epidemic levels are observed every four years, authorities say.


Risk factors


The city is now on high alert given prevailing weather conditions.


Incessant rains beginning in mid-May led to the displacement of 13,000 people in western and southern Sri Lanka, including Colombo District and parts of the city, with upcoming monsoon rains over the next two months expected to exacerbate conditions.


With heavy rains, most mosquito-breeding areas get washed away, but with continuous drizzle, there is a higher chance of breeding grounds remaining intact, Kariyawasam warned.


According to Prishanthy Wijesinghe, a senior health official with the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology Unit, the government has a comprehensive programme to counter dengue.


“Every year [at] this time... there is increased risk of dengue. However, this year we are seeing a further increase in the cases,” he said.


Nationwide problem


Sri Lanka’s Dengue Control Unit was established in 2005; it has dispatched 300 medical officers countrywide to monitor the situation. The data is then processed in Colombo.


In 2009, 35,007 cases were reported nationwide – an increase of more than 400 percent [6,555] on the previous year. Of these, the highest number – 7,048 – were reported in June, followed by 6,872 in July. Some 346 people died of dengue in 2009 across the island nation, the unit reported.


In January this year, 4,672 cases were reported against 1,279 cases a year earlier.


The Epidemiology Unit expects the number of dengue cases to rise drastically given monsoon rains in June and July.


Supriya Warusavithana, a WHO health officer, told IRIN that dengue cases are mostly reported in Jaffna, Gampaha, Colombo, Kandy, Matale and Batticoloa and Western and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.


In an effort to mitigate the risks, WHO is working closely with the authorities to provide doctors around the country with extensive training to diagnose and manage the disease.


According to the world health body, the dengue menace continues to grow globally, with 50 million infections worldwide annually. Some 2.5 billion people – two-fifths of the world's population – are now at risk, WHO says.



This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Support The New Humanitarian

Your support helps us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.