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Mosquito mayhem

(Illustration by Nick Choo)

SPEND 10 minutes every week cleaning your house to avoid dengue and Chikungunya. Right.

Ten minutes a week — a total of 520 minutes per household — could apparently have been enough to stop 108 people from dying of dengue, and 4,132 cases of Chikungunya in 2008.

I first saw that public service ticker announcement on television in Dec 2008. And according to The Star‘s rundown of Chikungunya cases:

“Johor topped the list with 1,846 cases, followed by Malacca (606), Perak (590), Selangor (353), Pahang (341), Kedah (184), Negeri Sembilan (176), Kelantan (135), Federal Territory (27), Penang (6), Terengganu (4) and Perlis and Sarawak (each three cases).”

Is this campaign working at all?

In the first week of 2009, 1,633 people were recorded with dengue; four died. Some 364 Chikungunya cases were reported up until 17 Jan.

There could be many causes for the current dengue outbreak. The deplorable living conditions of Burmese refugees in Penang have been highlighted as a possible cause of the outbreak there, as well as the lack of public maintenance works.

An SMS from a resident in Klang, published in The Star, suggested that perhaps fogging practices are insufficient.

On the other hand, the Health Ministry Director-General himself states that householders are refusing the local authorities entry into their homes to conduct fogging. He also states that out of the 54 hotspots highlighted by the Health Ministry, only five areas have decided to conduct gotong-royong to clean up their communities.

Obviously, people are not taking the dengue threat seriously enough.

Esprit de corps?

Spot the mozzie (Pic by Jurek D / Flickr)

But is there any link between the lack of communal spirit and the continuing spread of these diseases? Of course there is.

If members of the community actually cared to talk about their issues with one another, dog registration in Nilai wouldn’t be an issue. Perhaps Nurin Jazlin Jazimin and Sharlinie Mohd Nashar wouldn’t have been kidnapped. Perhaps there would not still be a “missing” poster with Muhamad Asmawi Jalaludin‘s face on it at the RHB Bank ATM in Section 9, Shah Alam.

But this is not how things are.

Mosques would still rather preach about how people in Gaza are suffering the wrath of the Jews. Our religious leaders are more interested in praising the Turkish Prime Minister for speaking out against Israel, and glorify an Iraqi journalist for throwing his shoes at former US President George W Bush.

This would all be fine if it wasn’t at the expense of ignoring their fellow citizens from all races and religions who are suffering and dying from dengue and Chikungunya.

So much for their concept of fraternity.

While the government has declared war against aedes, the Muslim community has declared jihad on a lot of things. Aedes is not one of them.

Malaysia is not the only country suffering an increase in these mosquito-transmitted diseases. Singapore recorded 240 cases of dengue in the first week of 2009. Looking through Singapore’s Ministry of Health statistics, the comparison between 2008 and 2009 is terrifying, considering that in Malaysia we only heard about Chikungunya en masse only during the second half of 2008.

We do not have to fund research into genetically modifying mosquitoes, which is being done in Australia by a researcher who contracted dengue in Malaysia. What we need is common sense, and a sense of caring for the community.

Wow, she nearly overreacted there (Pic by nayrb7 / Flickr)

It takes a village

For example, it is hard to ignore that even the government seems resigned that Malaysians do not talk to their neighbours. Why else would the government put up a public service announcement asking you to spend 10 minutes a week cleaning your own house? Why is the government targeting individual households, instead of asking neighbours to spend a few hours together cleaning up the entire community?

While former US First Lady Hillary Clinton talked about how it takes a village to raise a child, why aren’t imams here preaching that it takes an ummah to combat these diseases?

Why is there no one preaching that it takes a municipality, or a township, or even a new village to declare war on disease-carrying mosquitoes?

And so this is another truth from the bottom of the barrel: Malaysians don’t give a damn what goes on next door to them, what more the Muslim concept of neighbourhood, which is defined as a 40-home radius surrounding your own home.

So how do we deal with this?

M Bakri Musa, a Malaysian surgeon based in Florida, suggested that perhaps we are approaching the wrong people to deal with this issue. He said we should at some point consult the Public Works Department — a branch of the government that has not even built our highways properly. That is just a tad ridiculous.

Ahmad Hafidz Baharom is a paradox. He’s an anti-smoking chain smoker, an environmentalist who leaves his office lights on, a centrist who’s a lalang, and a twentysomething yuppie who dreams of being a slacker. Basically, he’s a lovable moron.

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