SRI LANKA: Dengue fever and dysfunctional democracy 

Basil Fernando

80 persons have died of dengue fever recently. Over 5,000 people are infected and there are fears that of further spread of the virus. The president has asked the authorities to pay more attention to the issue.

Diseases happen in all societies. However, the way diseases are dealt with depends on the efficiency of countries’ political as well as societal systems. In the case of disease it is the country’s overall medical system and the public relations systems which have the task of creating people’s awareness about ways to deal with the problem that make the difference.

Just now, in many parts of the world there is the issue of swine flu. From the moment the first deaths were announced from Mexico, there have been huge alerts in many parts of the world to prevent the spread of the disease and to provide treatment to those who were infected. The efficiency of the public relations exercises in order to alert the public to the danger and to provide information on ways to deal with it depended very much on different types of political systems prevailing within each country. Where the democratic habits of accountability exist, medical and political authorities quickly embarked on trying to demonstrate that they are doing all they can. Within such systems of accountability, the creation of public awareness and sharing of information are vital aspects. When such a system exists, it is possible to do whatever that is humanly possible to do within the framework of medical knowledge available to our times. Where the political systems are backward and have a lax system of accountability, only the minimum is done. Even keeping track of the number of people dead and the how fast virus may be spreading is not done adequately.

What is the type of public awareness work done about the prevention of dengue fever? Mere public statements from a head of the state do not suffice. In fact, the work of prevention and protection is not done directly by the head of the state but by those who are carrying out many tasks within the medical system and the public relations system. Everything depends on these persons.

What is the type of accountability system that prevails over Sri Lanka’s medical system and public relations systems? It is not different to the accountability systems that apply to other aspects of the society. On all aspects of the Sri Lankan society, the accountability systems are nearly dead.

The result of accountability systems being dead is that the type of energetic pursuit of fighting against the social evils, disease being the most important of such social evils, does not take place. Lethargy is spread throughout the society and demoralization is spread into all areas of professional life. Various types of fear are paralyzing everyone, so the type of initiatives that normally arise to deal with threats to life and survival are affected by such fears.

When people fought in the early twentieth century against malarial mosquitoes, they succeeded. In the background of struggles for independence and due to leftist political parties who during that time showed empathy for the common folk, an energetic movement developed and the mosquitoes’ influence was adequately defeated.

If the dengue fever is spreading, it is not because the mosquito that carries the dengue fever is stronger than the malarial mosquito. It is simply because the country’s total system of accountability is much weaker.

It is the duty of the parliament to take active part to stop the spread of dengue fever. It is a duty of all the media to take up the cause of fighting dengue as a priority and to provide adequate media time for this campaign. It is a duty of doctors and health workers to demand all the facilities they need to deal with this issue, in order to prevent danger to any more lives. It is a duty of the public to critically examine why their society does not prove to have sufficient energy and determination to defeat this viral disease.


Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-024-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,