Monday, September 25, 2006

Cuba wages war on tiny enemy

Independent Online - South Africa

September 25 2006 at 01:15AM

Havana - Fidel Castro isn't the only one ailing in Cuba, where authorities are on the charge, spraying from aircraft and military trucks in a war on a great big, tiny enemy: the mosquito that spreads dengue.

The communist government has summoned everyone from military troops to ordinary workers, to young people doing their military service and school kids, to pitch in in the fight against dengue, which in its hemorrhagic form can be deadly.

Thick clouds of white fumigation chemicals have become an everyday sight in Havana and around the country, day and night. Cuban health officials have not confirmed or denied cases of dengue.

"We cannot speak of an epidemic, but there are people who have dengue," a physician, 35, told reporters on condition that he not be named.

In the hot rainy summer season "there are a lot of smaller outbreaks of diseases; prevention is health policy in Cuba, and extreme measures are taken to avoid epidemics," the doctor added.

Though dengue is a concern across the Caribbean and most of Latin America, it is arguably more sensitive an issue in Cuba where health care is a top achievement of the Americas' only communist government.

And Cuba is now in unchartered territory as Fidel Castro, 80, ceded power in July for the first time in almost 48 years to his brother, Raul Castro, 75, after intestinal surgery.

"I was quite ill, I had been bitten by a million mosquitoes, I had some bleeding, but now I am doing well, I have been recovering; they gave me vitamins and they have been here to spray," one woman, 43, a resident of Havana's El Vedado neighbourhood, said privately.

She wound up in intensive care for four days at Havana's Salvador Allende Hospital. "I had 22 intravenous treatments in the total 12 days that I was in the hospital," she explained.

The Offensive Against The Enemy (the Aedes Aegypti mosquito known for its striped legs) campaign kicked off a month ago in official media, urging Cubans to work to eliminate any standing water where the bug can breed.

Armed with spray cans of chemicals, young people doing their military service make spritzing rounds to Cuban homes each day. Backing them up are workers at restaurants, businesses and government offices.

High school students, decked out in red T-shirts and waving little flashlights, make their own rounds in the dark of night on Saturdays led by teachers, hunting for any existing or potential mosquito breeding grounds.

Vehicles that come from central and eastern Cuba to the capital in the west are stopped and sprayed.

Tuesday, General Jose Carrillo Gomez warned that it was necessary to "make the campaign stronger" adding that "we must all join the work, which is decisive for the Revolution".

Fidel Castro, as he recovers in an undisclosed hospital-like facility, is closely following the details of the battle, his brother Raul told the official newspaper Granma on Saturday. Raul Castro and Politburo members meanwhile met with provincial party leaders in Havana on gearing up the fight, Granma said.

The only way to fight dengue, according to the World Health Organisation, is to fight the bug that transmits it, which breeds in standing water as small as a puddle.

Dengue's common symptoms are high fever, muscle aches, and headaches. The hemorrhagic form of the disease can be fatal if left untreated.

Cuba, Chile and Uruguay are the only countries in Latin America that do not have endemic dengue problems. Between 1977 and 2002, however, Cuba had four epidemics and one small outbreak.

The most recent epidemic in Cuba was between June 2001 and March 2002, with 14,524 cases recorded, 81 of them hemorrhagic, of whom three people died, all in Havana, a study found. - Sapa - AFP

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