- A first-ever outbreak of dengue fever in Cape Verde, already causing four deaths and infecting 9,000 persons, has caused panic on the archipelago. Tomorrow, everybody is urged to kill mosquitoes instead of going to work, and both the police and army are sent out to root out the disease.
Cape Verdean José Maria Neves has used the last two days to demonstrate his ability to act. The nation is gearing up to tomorrow's great national campaign of cleaning and eradication of the mosquito that carries the dengue virus. The entire population is asked to participate in the campaign, rather than going to work tomorrow.
But action is already in place. In the capital Praia, the worst struck municipality on the archipelago, a police force of 500 men and women and parts of the Cape Verdean army are on the streets to eradicate the dangerous mosquitoes.
PM Neves has also assured foreign help to root out the new epidemic. The World Health Organisation already has shipped staff to Praia, helping to organise the fight against dengue fever. Further, Mr Neves today called on "friendly countries", in particular Portugal, Spain and Cuba, to send emergency aid, including hospital equipment and staff to treat the increasing numbers of infected.
The epidemic has indeed come as a bad surprise to the archipelago, where the tropical mosquito-borne disease never has been registered before. And it has spread as a bushfire. Registered infections are rising at a record rate of one thousand - a day. The latest numbers released in Praia are 8,799 infections. 851 out of them are from the capital.
Also, mortality rates are starting to be significant. Only two days ago, the first death attributed to dengue fever was registered. Today, the number is at four diseased.
The population has been shocked and traumatised by the sudden spread of this unknown disease. The epidemic comes at the same time as swine flue was starting to spread rapidly on the archipelago.
But Prime Minister Neves also was obliged to act forcefully for economic reasons. Already yesterday, the Cape Verdean government had no choice but issuing a warning to tourists to take extra precautions due to the outbreak. The Portuguese Foreign Ministry - representing one of Cape Verde's main tourist markets - has already issued a travel warning on Cape Verde.
For the archipelago, such a blow to the tourism industry could spell significant economic consequences. Tourism has developed into the backbone of Cape Verde's economic boom, and the archipelago was aiming at becoming "the new Canary Islands" off the West African coast. With the occurrence of tropical diseases, mass tourism however seems unrealistic.
With a preliminary anti-dengue budget of 40 million escudos (euro 360,000) the Neves government therefore aims at nothing less than the total eradication of dengue fever from the archipelago. For that to happen, massive campaigns to eradicate mosquitoes have to succeed. On the negative side, however, the disease was allowed to spread to almost all islands before being detected.
Dengue fever is the most common mosquito-borne viral disease of humans. In recent years it has become a major public health concern in the tropics. The geographical spread of both the mosquito and the virus has led to the global resurgence of epidemic dengue fever in the past 25 years, according to WHO. There is no known cure to the disease.
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