ALREADY cursed by floods and suicide bombings, Pakistan now faces a new menace from an unprecedented outbreak of the deadly tropical disease dengue fever.
In less than a month, 126 people have died and more than 12,000 have been diagnosed with the virus, which has spread rapidly among both rich and poor in Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore.
Dengue affects between 50 and 100 million people in the tropics and subtropics each year, resulting in fever, muscle and joint ache.
But it can also be fatal, developing into haemorrhagic fever and shock syndrome, which is characterised by bleeding and a loss of blood pressure.
Caused by four strains of virus spread by the mosquito Aedes aegypti, there is no vaccine – which is why prevention methods focus on mosquito control.
Pakistani authorities in Lahore have blamed the crisis on prolonged monsoon rains and unusually high seasonal temperatures.
But furious locals say the outbreak is yet another example of government inefficiency, citing a failure to take preventive measures to kill off the mosquitos and lengthy power cuts.
Saad Azeem, 45, is a police officer who should be out spraying the streets with insecticide, but he is laid up at home suffering from the fever and mourning the death of his elderly father.
“My father was 79 years old and a retired deputy superintendent of police. His death due to dengue fever really shocked us,” Azeem said.
“This dengue has become a calamity.”
Of the more than 11,584 people afflicted, 10,244 come from Lahore alone, the provincial capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province and the country’s political heartland.
In northwestern province Khyber Paktunkhwa, at least 130 people have been diagnosed and six have died. Southern province Sindh has seen 400 suspected cases and six deaths.
Banners emblazoned with giant sketches of mosquitos and public warning messages such as “Eliminate dengue, Have peace” are hung across avenues and crossings in Lahore, a city of eight million.
In much of Lahore, known for its rich cultural heritage and popular restaurants, life carries on as normal with some establishments as crowded as ever in the cooler evenings.
Others cannot afford to be ruffled.
Mohammad Naeem, a 50-year-old roadside telephone vendor, said he had no alternative but to brave the risk.
“No sir, we do not apply any lotion. It’s very expensive. We can hardly buy a loaf of bread. They come to our doorsteps to beg for votes, but they do not come to spray,” he complained.