By Maricel Seeger
JUJUY, Argentina – Working like “ants” against somber predictions, Argentina’s impoverished north is preparing to battle a renewed spread of dengue fever, which has hit the country with its worst epidemic in history this year.
Despite the lack of resources, health workers are visiting each home in the province of Jujuy with the aim of trying to prevent a resurgence of the disease in the area – which has also been hit with the swine flu – as the higher temperatures of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer approach.
“It means that the people will have to adopt new customs to prevent dengue. The attitude changes take a long time,” Rosana Carrizo, a health official in the town of San Pedro, told Efe.
The high temperatures, the lack of water and proper sewage facilities all make the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits dengue, quite a dangerous proposition in the extreme northern part of Argentina, a country where this year 50,000 people have been infected with the disease and about 10 have died, according to local organizations.
“The officials tell us that there can be no standing water. But it’s complicated because when there’s a lack of water you have to go out and collect it in containers,” Maria Figueroa – a resident of the town, which has unpaved streets, small humble houses and summer temperatures exceeding 42 C (107 F) – told Efe.
The combined task of health workers to raise the awareness of the residents about preventive actions and to inspect every home to eliminate standing water where the mosquito can breed is not an easy one in this town near the province’s so-called “dengue route.”
“Next summer, we’re going to have hemorrhagic dengue – the lethal variant of the disease – as a consequence of the outbreak there was at the beginning of this year,” warned health worker and local resident Mirta Martinez, who also noted the lack of resources to deal with the problem in the area.
Her colleague Adriana Soria said that the fact that several residents travel regularly to shop in neighboring Bolivia, which also affected by dengue, serves to spread the disease.
Because Argentina shares “this serious health problem” with Bolivia and Paraguay, the three countries have agreed on joint actions to combat the spread of the mosquito, Argentine Health Minister Juan Manzur told Efe, adding that last week he visited Jujuy to present the National Plan to Prevent and Control Dengue and Yellow Fever, another disease that regularly afflicts the zone.
“The economic factor is a very serious problem. There are a lot of unemployed people,” nurse Mario Gareca, who works in the San Pedro hospital, told Efe. This year, several cases of swine flu were treated at the hospital, but nationwide more than 100,000 people were infected and 404 died.
To these problems can be added Chagas disease, from which about 4 million Argentines suffer, many of them in the north, according to local organizations.
“I always buy mineral water to drink and cook with because we don’t trust (the local water supply),” said resident Carlos Escalante, who admitted however, that buying bottled water is expensive and therefore many people in the area cannot afford it.
Escalante has another advantage over his neighbors in that he lives quite close to the San Pedro hospital, while others living farther away have a difficult time getting to the health center on foot under the hot sun.
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