Dengue Epidemic in Sri Lanka: distressing experience when someone close to you became the victim
Last Saturday, I was unable to write my weekly column for the Asian Tribune, as I was compelled to rush to Sri Lanka in order to attend the funeral of a niece of mine, succumbed to Dengue fever in the most unfortunate circumstances.
Chekila Ranatunge, 24, the daughter of Mrs Malini Ranatunge, the former High Court Judge for Colombo, died on Saturday at Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital while undergoing treatment at the Incetive Care Unit. The fate of the LLB graduate of University of London, just a few days away from the final-year-results from the Law College of Sri Lanka, was sealed during a period of 10 days of fever that struck her down in two distinct bouts as a result of Dengue virus.
It goes without saying the vacuum created beyond the immediate family, when the victim happened to be the only child in the family.
“It is not the length of life, but the depth of life…” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Among those who attended the funeral were Chief Justice Mohan Peiris and Mrs Priyanthi Peiris, who had lost their only child, a daughter, but in different circumstances: a quantifiable pain was written all over the faces of the couple while they were paying the last respect for my niece; they may have revisited the agonizing memories of their beloved child in similar circumstances, a few years back.
One thing that surprised me during my short stay in Sri Lanka is the way the general public keep the fear factor at bay when it comes to Dengue: they have accepted the fact that avoiding mosquito bites is next to impossible no matter where you live in; they get on with their lives with come what may attitude; in short, they have accepted that Dengue is something that they have to live with for the foreseeable future, perhaps drawing some inspiration from the dark days when the threat of suicide bombers was looming over their souls – day in, day out.
As far as the preventive measures are concerned, the public awareness campaign, collectively launched by health authorities and the media, appeared to have paid off: people are paying more attention to the potential breeding grounds around their households as never before; moreover, they are aware of the need for a simple blood test to determine the existence of Dengue virus, if they suffer from flu-like symptoms for more than three successive days.
Since antibiotics make little or no impact on a viral disease, the doctors want patients to rest while taking plenty of liquids until the disease takes its course. The Platelet count, among other things, is monitored during the peak, just to make sure the situation does not take a turn for the worse.
The relatives of some of the Dengue patients - lucky to be recovered from the disease – told me they made the patients drink a juice made by raw papaya leaves during the period of illness, in the hope of keeping the vital platelet count stable. They were, however, insistent that the indigenous wonder ‘cure’ is a complement, not a substitute for the conventional medical treatments. According to my Indian friends, the tendency to turn to indigenous ‘remedies’, is not unique to Sri Lanka, as a way of combating the potentially lethal disease.
Dengue fever, which has reached epidemic levels in the tropics, shows no signs of a let-up, despite the measures implemented by the governments across the world. The rate of death, however, is on the decline, thanks to the combination of effective prevention campaign and Dengue awareness campaigns.
The near and dear ones of my niece, meanwhile, find solace in the short life that she lived to fullest while admiring Emerson’s assertion about the depth rather than the length of one’s life. As close family members who are in mourning, we know that what lay ahead of her pales into insignificance in comparison to what lay in her.
- Asian Tribune -