Has dengue become a security threat to Bangladesh?

Hundreds of dengue-affected patients are receiving treatment in different public and private hospitals in Dhaka, but hospitals are full to the brim and facing challenges to handle the crisis due to lack of sufficient equipment and manpower, writes Akmal Hossain for South Asia Monitor

Akmal Hossain Aug 30, 2019
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An epidemic-like outbreak of dengue, a disease carried by the Aedes mosquito, has become a source of fear among people across Bangladesh, particularly in the capital Dhaka. According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) more than 50,000 people have already been affected by dengue, and the numbers of those afflicted is increasing nationwide.
 
At least 100 people, including some university students have died of dengue. As a consequence, many students have already left their dormitories and are demanding effective use of anti-mosquito drugs. Hundreds of dengue-affected patients are receiving treatment in different public and private hospitals in Dhaka, but hospitals are full to the brim and facing challenges to handle the crisis due to lack of sufficient equipment and manpower.
 
It is a matter of concern is that both city corporations and other authorities have failed to protect city dwellers from the disease. The mayor of the South City Corporation earlier denied any dengue outbreak, dismissing such reports as rumours, but now admits that dengue has become a source of panic for the city.
 
The important question is, can we say that the ‘Dengue menace’ has become a security threat for the people of the country? First of all, it is problematic to define the term security threat or security issue because of the many different definitions available in security studies and social sciences. Therefore, when can an issue be seen as a security threat?
 
Security can be seen as the absence of danger, fear or anxiety and has a common character. A distinction is conventionally drawn between the maintenance of security in the domestic sphere and maintenance of security in the international sphere. Security, of course, can also be defined from a political perspective, who gets what, when and how, according to Harold J. Laswell, a renewed political scientist.
 
Without understanding non-traditional security issues, it may be misleading to imagine how dengue can be seen as a security threat. According to non-traditional security (NTS) studies in Asia, ‘non-traditional security issues are challenges to the survival and well-being of peoples and states that arise primarily out of non-military sources.
 
Issues, for example, like climate change, resources’ scarcity, infectious diseases, natural disasters, irregular migration, food shortages, human smuggling, drug trafficking and transnational crime can be seen as non-traditional security problems. Most of the time, these are transnational in character and can have various causative factors.
 
The main features of NTS threats are that they are transnational, create fear among people, create political and societal instability and require multinational cooperation to remove.
 
Why has dengue become a non-traditional security threat for the country? A significant number of reasons are available to designate dengue as a security problem. 
 
Firstly, the dengue outbreak has spread first in Dhaka city and then across the country. Around 2,000 people are getting affected by dengue fever every day and the numbers appear to be still rising.
 
Secondly, anxiety among people can be described as a security threat to the people’s health and their lives. Many people have already stopped going out and have confined themselves indoors. The mosquito net has now become an essential feature in every household. Overall, dengue has created a kind of terror among people.
 
Thirdly, it has political and economic consequences. Politicians from the two major political parties have generated controversial and, of course, ridiculous comments about the dengue menace to gain political mileage from people’s misery, but they have not succeeded.
 
Fourthly, resolving NTS problems needs cooperation from all people; the state alone cannot resolve it. Dengue, in this sense, as a NTS issue, cannot be tackled by the government alone. Mutual understanding and cooperation is needed and a national consensus required. Also, politicians should shun petty politics for this issue of public health security.
 
The important thing for the government to do is purchase anti-mosquito medicines and effective drugs to curb mosquitoes. Skilled people must be involved in using these drugs in areas where mosquitoes breed.  The government must also take initiatives to make people aware.
 
Finally, a clean environment is the single most important effective measure to reduce the dengue outbreak. The places where mosquitoes breed should be kept clean. Sources of Aedes breeding, particularly drains, broken pots, and various types of containers should be kept stagnant-water free.
 
Without individual awareness as well as social responses, government alone cannot end the dengue crisis. People, civil society, and media have to play important role to lift the nation from the rampant dengue crisis. Only then we will get rid of this terrible problem.
 
(The writer is a political analyst with the University of Dhaka. He can be reached at: akmal10th.du@gmail.com)

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