(NEW YORK) -- A dengue epidemic has been declared in the Philippines in the wake of more than 600 deaths and over 146,000 cases of the disease having been recorded in 2019 alone – a 98 percent increase from the previous year.
Dengue – one of the fastest-spreading mosquito-borne diseases in the world – has increased 30-fold in the past 50 years, according to information from the World Health Organization released in June.
“It is important that a national epidemic be declared in these areas to identify where a localized response is needed, and to enable the local government units to use their Quick Response Fund to address the epidemic situation” said Philippines Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.
Several other countries in the Western Pacific region such as Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam have been dealing with an increase in dengue cases and deaths this year, according to the WHO.
The Philippines, however -- where there have been 622 deaths and 146,062 cases on record -- has surpassed those other countries.
According to the most recent data there, there were 10,502 new cases in the week of July 14 to 20, a 71 percent increase from the same week in 2018.
“Starting today, the Department of Health together with other government agencies … schools, offices, and communities will … focus on search and destroy of mosquito breeding sites," the country's department of health said in a statement announcing the epidemic. "This is one of the primary interventions to prevent and control dengue.”
The WHO says that it is imperative to act early to save lives.
“There is no specific treatment for dengue but early detection, improved clinical management and access to proper medical care for severe dengue can reduce fatality rates”, the organizations said in a statement.
“WHO is working closely with the Philippines and other countries across the region to address dengue," said Olivia Law Davies, the organization's regional communications manager. "WHO doesn’t designate an outbreak as being at a national level.”
It was only at the end last month when Duque, the Philippines' health secretary, and the Department of Health released a statement sounding hopeful that they could contain the epidemic.
“There is an outpouring of support from our health partners, especially the Philippine Red Cross, other government agencies, and the members of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council. We are extremely grateful for their urgent response … and with our concerted efforts we hope to be able to quell this dengue outbreak.”
Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said the biggest concern is the rate of people dying, "especially children."
"This is a signal that we need to work with countries to strengthen care as well as prevention,” Kasai said.
Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.