15 November 2011

UNICEF provides mosquito nets to protect evacuees from dengue fever

Children inside a UNICEF-supplied mosquito net during a demonstration by public health workers. © UNICEF Thailand/2011/Piyanun Kiatnaruyuth

By Andy Brown

BANGKOK – After losing their homes and in some cases loved ones to the Thai floods, families staying at the evacuation centre set up in Bang Krai Nok Temple in northern Bangkok now have something else to worry about – dengue fever.

One of the evacuees at the centre, which itself is inundated with floodwater, recently was stricken with the sometimes deadly disease and transported to a hospital by boat.

Akasit Srichouchom, who is in charge of health care at the evacuation centre, says the hospital is “only a few kilometres away, but it seems further when you go by boat.”  

The worst floods in Thailand in more than 50 years are currently affecting almost 3 million people across the country, including some 800,000 people in Bangkok.  More than 14,000 people are living in evacuation centres in Bangkok, and dozens of families forced out of their homes due to high floodwaters are now housed in the Bang Krai Nok temple’s school library and classrooms.

To protect families affected by flooding from dengue fever and other mosquito borne diseases, Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) staff are distributing 20,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets provided by UNICEF.

“When we visit evacuation centres like this, the main complaint we get is about mosquitos,” says Dr. Manit Teeratantikanont, Director-General of the Department of Disease Control. “Mosquitos breed in water and now there’s water everywhere.”

Staff from UNICEF, the Ministry of Public Health and the local council deliver supplies by boat.© UNICEF Thailand/2011/Piyanun Kiatnaruyuth

Emergency responses

Dengue fever, a severe flu-like illness that affects infants, young children and adults, is spread through mosquito bites in the same way as malaria. Prevalent throughout Thailand, there were more than 115,000 confirmed cases of dengue in 2010, resulting in 141 fatalities. In Asia as a whole, dengue is a leading cause of hospitalization and death among children, and during epidemics up to 20 per cent of dengue cases can be fatal.

On a recent day, MOPH staff used a vacant classroom on the top floor of the temple’s school building to show the evacuees how to correctly use the nets to protect themselves, as well as how to use makeshift toilets fashioned from plastic chairs.
Pointing to the to the school’s large windows, Dr Manit says: “Now that they have mosquito nets, they can open the windows at night and let in some fresh air.”

As the floodwaters begin to recede, safe drinking water and sanitation have become major issues, as stagnant water and improperly disposed of human waste and garbage can increase the risk of insect-, water- and food-borne diseases.

UNICEF has budgeted Baht 40 million (US$ 1.27 million) to support the government’s emergency relief and post-flood recovery efforts in the areas of health, child protection, education, water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

In addition to the mosquito nets, UNICEF is  providing more than 350,000 water, hygiene and sanitation items, including bottles of chlorine drops for water purification, bars of soap, alcohol hand gel, and garbage bags for excreta disposal. All of the supplies have been purchased locally. UNICEF has also provided 320,000 information pamphlets on how families can help protect the health and well-being of their children during floods and other emergencies.

Ratnasunder plays with her pet dogs at Bang Krai Nok Temple evacuation centre..© UNICEF Thailand/2011/Piyanun Kiatnaruyuth

Broken family

Among the children at the temple centre benefiting from the mosquito nets is seven-year-old Ratnasunder, who lives with her grandparents and pet dogs in a former classroom. For a child who had to flee her home in the face of rising floodwaters, Ratnasunder seems happy and carefree, smiling broadly when playing with one of her dogs.

Her grandmother Tongploen, however, is more subdued.

“We used to live in a single story house alongside the canal at Wat Po Ain,” Tongploen  says. “We went back once and rescued some clothes, but now it’s flooded up to the roof so we can’t get in. We’re comfortable living here but it’s hard to get out. We used to have our own boat but it’s broken, so now we use the public boat.”

The difficulty they have getting around in the floodwaters has resulted in separation of the family. Ratnasudar’s mother, who works as a secretary in an office in the city centre, now lives near her office and has not seen the family since the floods.

“We can’t get in touch with her as she doesn’t have a phone,” Tongploen says. “But she knows that we’re here. She came to see us before the floods, and we agreed that if our house flooded, Ratnasunder would stay here with us.”

Children in Thailand need your help, both during and after this flood crisis. You can donate online now to help children affected by the floods.

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