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Bolivia faces dengue epidemic
Health emergency declared amid worst outbreak of mosquito-borne fever in 22 years.
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2009 12:46 GMT
Bolivia's government has stepped up fumigation and boosted funding for hospital supplies [GALLO/GETTY]

Bolivia has declared a health emergency as a dengue fever epidemic spreads across much of the country.

Health officials say it is the worst outbreak in 22 years and at least three people are known to have died from the disease.

The government has allocated funds to supply hospitals and step up fumigation, but doctors say this only scratches the surface of necessary measures and accuse authorities of being slow to take action.

Because of stretched-thin medical resources in Bolivia, doctors are having to turn away many patients who are not yet in critical condition.

"The politicians have been too occupied with the constitutional referendum and have forgotten that we have a very real and serious epidemic," Carlos Martinez, of the Santa Cruz pediatric hospital, told Al Jazeera.

Children at risk

The classic form of dengue fever, which is spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito, is especially dangerous for young children.

Lucy Lam of DENCO, a group of Asian and Latin American medical professionals who provide advice on how to manage dengue, said the unrestrained growth of cities like Santa Cruz only serves to promote the disease.

"Over the last two or three decades, there have been a number of cities where the population keeps growing and growing, uncontrolled. With that, the infrastructure is not keeping up with the population, and that has resulted in cities becoming very densely populated," she told Al Jazeera.

"That allows the aedes mosquito, which likes to live among humans, to thrive and breed and multiply in this kind of environment."

A variant of the disease called dengue hemorrhagic fever, which as the name indicates, causes hemorrhaging, has also been detected in Bolivia.

Loss of liquids

Dr Martinez said half of the patients at his hospital have hemorrhagic dengue.

"They don't die from the hemorrhaging itself, but from the loss of liquids in the body. The 10 per cent mortality rate is usually the result of not getting medical attention in time."

Lam says the government can only do so much, stressing that "we have to take care of our own backyard".

"The life cycle from egg to adult mosquito is about a week," she said.

"So, within a week, if you spend 10 minutes going around our own premises ... [checking] all those containers that [have] water."

"Clean them out, get rid of the eggs. And that is enough to get rid of the mosquito at its most vulnerable stage."

Source:
Al Jazeera
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