Malaysia launches mozzie app to fight dengue

KUALA LUMPUR - For more than two weeks, Father Christopher Soosaipillai could not conduct Sunday services because he was stricken with dengue.

The Catholic priest, who is still recovering after his discharge from hospital last week, thinks a rail construction site near his Church of the Sacred Heart parish could be a mosquito breeding ground, pointing to waterlogged puddles and discarded tyres lying around there.

“The city just approves these projects, but doesn’t check if these construction sites have proper dumpsters,” Father Soosaipillai told The Straits Times.

The number of dengue cases in Malaysia has seen a 4 per cent spike so far this year compared with the same period last year (2012), according to data from the Health Ministry’s disease control division. There were 11,485 cases with 23 deaths as of last Sunday (june 16).

Selangor, the most populous state, has the highest number of dengue cases at 2,479. Johor’s 516 cases is the second highest.

To tackle the menace, Malaysian health authorities last week launched a website and an app that provide up-to-date information on dengue cases and hotspots around the country.

Dr Rose Nani Mudin, who leads the government’s efforts against dengue, said posting the information on iDengue would encourage people to contain outbreaks in their own areas.

“People need to quickly know where the outbreaks are so they can organise clean-up projects in dengue-prone areas,” she told The Straits Times.

The iDengue system, set up according to World Health Organisation guidelines, requires private and public clinics as well as hospitals to immediately report cases with dengue symptoms to a central government dengue databank, which in turn feeds the information to iDengue.

Medical teams are then sent to investigate the new cases and, where necessary, a fogging unit will be called in, said Dr Rose.Health workers who do not report dengue cases to the databank could face fines of up to RM1,000 (S$400).

Dr Ng Ee Vern, a head physician with the Medijaya clinic group, said the system is just another tool to warn people of the dengue menace, adding that health workers could only do so much.

He added: “It’s ironic that more dengue cases are being detected in the urban areas. This could be due to more regular reporting of cases and also residents’ apathy towards ensuring there is no stagnant water in their homes.”

Even with iDengue in operation, health officials continue to make enforcement visits to homes and business premises. Errant owners were fined a total of RM683,500 up to April this year.

Father Soosaipillai thinks such visits and fines are still not enough.

“What’s the use of a one-time fine? (The authorities) need to be stricter or else the people will just go back to their old habits.”