Dhaka Citizens Show Mayors Red Card for Failure to Control Mosquito-Born Diseases

Dhaka citizens show mayors the red card for not solving the rampant mosquito problem. Image by Gazi Manjurul Alam Zuboraz. Used with permission.

On Saturday, the 15th of July 2017, a cross section of residents of the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka went on a demonstration in front of the National Museum at the Shahbagh intersection showing red cards to mayors of both Dhaka North and South City Corporations for their failure to handle the mosquito-borne chikungunya outbreak in Dhaka.

A Facebook event was created with a call out to ‘writers, artists, students, teachers, journalists and citizens’ to which a few thousand people responded. According to the event spokesperson, one in every ten Dhakaites bear the risk of suffering from chikungunya and the disease is spreading like an epidemic. The recent monsoon season resulted in a mosquito outbreak and both of Dhaka's city corporations have failed to take measures to eradicate the problem. If mosquitoes cannot be controlled, the city is in danger of a dengue epidemic as well, the event spokesperson explained.

Screenshot of Dhaka citizens showing their red cards on the Facebook event page. Image via Sangita Ghosh. (Click on the link to see full size images)

Chikungunya is an infection caused by the chikungunya virus which is spread between people by two types of mosquitos: Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, fatigue, rashes, and severe muscle and joint pain. Worse, even after months of remission, long-term musculoskeletal pain persists. Although the risk of death is around 1 in 1,000, the disease is practically unbearable for the very young, and elderly people with health complications.

Harry Faisal suffered from chikungunya and writes in Facebook about the unbearable disease:

এই মুহূর্তে শুধু ডানহাত ১০০% চালু। বাম গোড়ালি আর বাম কব্জি ফুলে আছে এবং হাটার জন্য পা ফেললেও ব্যাথার চোটে মাথা ঝিমঝিম করে উঠে।

বন্ধু, সিনিয়র -জুনিয়র, অফিস কলিগ – সবার কাছে দোয়া প্রার্থী।

At this moment only my right hand is working. My left ankle and the left wrist have swollen. I cannot walk as the unbearable pain hurts my head.

I seek prayers from my friends, colleagues and dear ones.

The mosquito problem in Dhaka is a perennial one. Dhaka's unclean water bodies including an inadequate sewage system are blamed for the growth of mosquitos and the diseases they spread. Both mayors of Dhaka North and South City Corporations won the election with the promise to eradicate mosquitoes from this mega city.

Chikungunya mosquito. Image from Flickr by CDC Global. CC BY 2.0

The disease has also spread to other parts of Bangladesh and health experts have publicly stressed cleanliness in and around the house to eradicate the disease-carrying mosquitos.

Recently Annisul Haque, mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation gained infamy by commenting that he cannot go to each home and kill mosquitoes and that the people should take measures to keep themselves safe from mosquitoes. Writer and publisher Robin Ahsan wrote in response on Facebook:

না মেয়র, আপনাকে কেউ ঘরে এসে মশারি টাঙাতে বলেনি। আমাদের যাতে মশারি না টাঙাতে হয় সেই দায়িত্ব আপনাকে দেওয়া হয়েছিল। আপনিও আর দশটা রাজনীতিবিদের মতোই চটকদার কথা বলে দায়িত্ব এড়ালেন।

No, Mr. Mayor, nobody has called you to fix mosquito nets inside their homes. You were given the responsibility to kill mosquitoes so we don't require mosquito nets. You just shifted your responsibility like other shrewd politicians.

Journalist Kabir Ahmed asked:

মেয়র আনিসুল হকের প্রতি প্রশ্ন, নগরের নাগরিক জীবন নির্বিঘ্ন করা যদি আপনাদের কাজ না হয়, তাহলে কী কাজ আপনাদের?

My question to Mayor Annisul Haque, if you cannot ease the lives of the citizens by fixing solvable problems, then what exactly is your job?

Rashes of a chikungunya patient. Image from Flicker by Pan American Health organization. CC BY-ND 2.0

On the other hand, the health minister blames the city corporations who failed to control the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. The Dhaka North City Corporation with 36 wards has only 279 staff members and the Dhaka South City Corporation with 56 wards has only 284 staff members. Last year, the budget for mosquito control in Dhaka North was only 232.5 million Taka (US$ 2.87 million) and in Dhaka South only 115 million Taka (US$ 1.42 million). That is certainly inadequate for Dhaka metro with a population of 19 million.

In response to citizen outrage in recent times, the city corporations have intensified their mosquito control program by launching special larviciding and fogging activities at different corners of the capital. Wahiduzzaman Khan, a banker, commented:

মশা-জলাবদ্ধতা-পাব্লিক ট্রান্সপোর্টের অভাব এগুলোর সাথে থাকতে থাকতে আমরা অভ্যস্ত হয়ে গেছি। আর এই অভ্যস্ততার সুযোগ নিচ্ছে পাব্লিক অফিস হোল্ডাররা। আমাদের উচ্চকন্ঠে অসন্তোস প্রকাশ তাদের টনক নড়িয়ে দিবেই।

People are being accustomed to civic problems such as traffic, mosquito, lack of public transport, etc. These executives of public offices are taking this to their advantage and are slacking. We have to cry out loud in protest to make them get back to work.

The protesters on Saturday formed a human chain under the banner “Writers, Singers, Students, Teachers, Journalists, and Citizens” and vowed to show their red cards again at the head offices of both city corporation if sufficient measures are not taken.

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