Pedro P Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – Let’s call her Silvia. Her name doesn’t mean anything. The important thing is that she has just lost the most precious thing to a human being: Life. She was a healthy, young, relatively happy woman. She was admitted into hospital with a high fever and headache. The next day, she was lifeless, dead. She leaves two young children behind, as well as a great blow to her family.
Silvia isn’t the only victim of dengue fever, this disease that has been ravaging our archipelago for many years. The same thing happened to Pablo, a 15-year-old teenager.
I was only 6 years old but I will never forget the famous outbreak of 1981. Official press, the only one to exist at the time, was forced to give the news a lot of media coverage. The number of people infected was so outrageous that they couldn’t hide it any longer. A little over 344,203 sick people were reported, with 10,312 critical or very critical cases, and 158 deaths. It was the first epidemic of hemorrhagic dengue fever in Cuba and the entire hemisphere.
Ever since then, a program popularly known as “The anti-mosquito campaign” was created, against the Aedes aegypti mosquito especially, which is the primary vector of the virus that causes dengue fever and other diseases. However, in spite of this, and Cuban health authorities’ efforts to try and wipe them out, dengue fever has become a permanent rival for our country’s public health system. Educational propaganda hasn’t helped, neither have constant fumigations or increased epidemiological controls, as well as other measures.
We aren’t the only ones suffering this scourge. Dengue fever affects many Latin American countries and there are even cases in the south of the US. However, I can only tell you what, in my humble opinion, is the main cause of this disease in our country: The awful hygiene and sanitary conditions we have.
Everybody knows that no matter how many campaigns and actions the State takes to wipe out the main vector of dengue fever, we will never be able to wipe out this plague entirely if we continue to have garbage dumps on every street corner. And now, with the summer rain we’ve had, there is a new outbreak, at least in my province, given the number of people who have fallen sick.
Unfortunately, it’s all part of the same web. A disastrous economy that doesn’t allow us to maintain the infrastructure we need to keep cities and towns free of garbage. It’s shameful that communal services companies depend on donations from city halls or local governments from other countries, or that an ox-driven cart is the main or only way to collect waste in many towns in the 21st century.
It’s also true that Cubans, in spite of being a people characterized by cleanliness in personal hygiene when compared to other countries, don’t have any discipline or a culture of cleanliness outside the home and throw cans, paper or any other piece of garbage onto the ground as if it were the most natural thing to do.
While these conditions don’t change, dengue fever will be here for a good while, and there will continue to be Silvias and Pablitos with their tragic endings.