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(File pix) Associate Professor Dr Hidayatul Fathi Othman (left) with Kevin Cheong Mun Chie. Pix by NSTP/Rohanis Shukri
(File pix) Associate Professor Dr Hidayatul Fathi Othman (left) with Kevin Cheong Mun Chie. Pix by NSTP/Rohanis Shukri

THE Health Ministry reported 80,615 dengue cases with 147 deaths last year.

Despite the efforts to combat the disease, dengue cases increased to more than 3,000, with 16 deaths recorded within the first three weeks of January.

Seeing this as a worrying issue, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) tied a strategic partnership with BASF Malaysia in an effort to combat dengue in Malaysia through the “Banteras Aedes Bersama BASF” (Defeat Dengue with BASF) campaign.

UKM parasitology and entomology expert Associate Professor Dr Hidayatul Fathi Othman said it was best to target the eradication of aedes mosquitoes during its immature stage.

She said the dengue virus can stay on in aedes mosquitoes for up to five successive insect generations before they are free of it, with each generation capable of infecting the population with the virus.

“This means that a single female mosquito could potentially lay more than 500 eggs containing the virus in a single lifetime,” she said.

“This is an exponential growth and when the larvae turns into a mosquito, the cycle starts again.”

Leveraging on their respective expertise, UKM and BASF Malaysia have jointly produced public educational materials on best practices, including the proper use of larvicide to eliminate breeding grounds for aedes mosquitoes with a tagline “Let’s Combat Dengue Together”.

Hidayatul said it was important for people to understand that dengue is dangerous and preventable.

“Most importantly, managing dengue requires coordinated effort between residents, local authorities and stakeholders.

“Any effort at dengue management will not work if it is done in silos.”

Based on statistics in the iDengue website, 33,544 cases were recorded from Dec 30 last year to March 21 nationwide, with 57 deaths reported.

Of this, Selangor accounted for 58 per cent with 19,574 cases. There were 166 dengue hotspots throughout the state.

The state recordeda184 per cent increase in cases up to March 11 compared with the same period last year.

Hidayatul gave an example of how a homeowner who diligently cleaned and removed any potential mosquito breeding site could still contract the virus if her neighbours did not follow her actions.

“The Aedes aegypti species is more dangerous because they can fly a distance of 400m, while the Aedes albopictus that thrives outdoors can only fly 80m. But both species carry the dengue virus, so you are not safe indoors or outdoors.

“Imagine if I allow fogging to be carried out inside my home but my neighbour does not. The Aedes aegypti can fly very far and come to my house.”

Though there was a drop in numbers for the past two years, she said it could meant that dengue management efforts were seeing results.

“However, part of the reason for the spike in cases is because we became complacent. Even if numbers drop, we should not slow down on community outreach programmes.”

With more than 20 years of experience in conducting studies on aedes mosquitoes, Hidayatul said the most effective and sustainable way to eradicate the virus was the searching and destroying of mosquito breeding grounds.

She added that creative ways were needed to get the message across to the communities.

With the help of local authorities and private companies, there are a lot of programmes that can be organised to raise awareness and inspire communities to work together.

“The collaboration we have with BASF Malaysia to carry out a pilot project where we introduced a fun half-day event at three locations in Selangor were proven successful,” she said.

Dengue hotspots in Presint 9A, Putrajaya, Apartment Idaman in Damansara Damai, and Bandar Tasik Kesuma Fasa 6 in Kajang were chosen for the Defeat Dengue with BASF programme.

During the event, residents were divided into teams and taught how to inspect, identify and destroy mosquito breeding grounds in their neighbourhoods.

“We made the entire experience into a game and showed educational videos. This seems like a simple programme, but it motivated residents to conduct search-and-destroy activities consistently following the event.

“Within six months, there were zero dengue cases in these areas when prior to that there was an average of 10 cases a month,” she added.

The two parties have also signed an agreement to conduct the programme in four other dengue-prone areas this year.

She said the games and videos helped to reinforce the message and knowledge of dengue eradication through a fun and creative way.

BASF Malaysia Sdn Bhd local business manager Kevin Cheong Mun Chie said the company was happy to collaborate and share their commitment to a common cause of driving public awareness and encouraging positive actions to curb dengue.

“We are pleased to support national efforts to tackle dengue in Malaysia. We also believe that the upcoming programme will result in positive outcomes as we broaden our reach to more dengue hotspots and interface directly with the public to drive home the important message of jointly combating dengue.

“It is our hope to also engage with other stakeholders including local councils and government agencies to jointly tackle this health issue. This programme will demonstrate the effectiveness of joint efforts to prevent mosquito breeding grounds and reduce dengue in Malaysia,” said Cheong.

This month, the first event of the roadshow will take place in collaboration with Kuala Lumpur City Hall, while two more events in the roadshow will be conducted in the second-half of the year.

The main highlight, he said, would be an “Explorace”, where participants will work in teams to compete in eliminating as many aedes mosquitoes breeding grounds as possible.

“This will be complemented by knowledge sharing and video presentations to drive greater understanding on measures to curb dengue outbreaks.”

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