Singapore's Dengue Emergency Worries the World; Unusual Outbreak Points Towards Climate Change
Singapore is dealing with a dengue "emergency" as it deals with an early epidemic of seasonal disease this year. The Southeast Asian city-state has already reported almost 11,000 cases, significantly above the 5,258 it reported for the entire year of 2021, and this was before June 1, when the peak dengue season begins.
Experts warn that the figure is alarming not only for Singapore but also for the rest of the world. Because of changes in the global climate, outbreaks like these are expected to become more widespread in the coming years.
Dengue fever is a dreadful disease. Flu-like symptoms include a high fever, severe headaches, and body aches. In extreme circumstances, bleeding, breathing difficulties, organ failure, and even death can occur.
[Cases] are rising faster. It's an urgent emergency now that we have to deal with." said Singapore's minister for home affairs.
Experts say recent extreme weather has exacerbated the epidemic in Singapore, and the country's situation could be a harbinger of what's to come worldwide as more countries endure prolonged hot weather spells and thundery storms that help spread mosquitoes and the virus they carry.
According to the WHO, the world saw a record 5.2 million cases of dengue fever in 2019, with outbreaks across Asia killing thousands. In the Philippines, hundreds of people perished, and millions more were put at risk when the country declared a nationwide dengue outbreak; in Bangladesh, hospitals were flooded with cases; and transmission was confirmed for the first time in Afghanistan.
Only one dengue death has been reported in Singapore this year, even though the disease has been widespread for decades. However, with the increased number of cases, authorities are taking no chances.
According to Ruklanthi de Alwis, a senior research fellow at the Duke-NUS Medical School and a specialist in emerging infectious diseases, The recent warm, rainy weather and a new dominant virus strain are contributing to Singapore's dengue outbreak.
But climate change, she said, was likely to make things worse. "Past predictive modelling studies have shown that global warming due to climate change will eventually expand the geographical areas (in which mosquitoes thrive) as well as the length of dengue transmission seasons," de Alwis said.
According to the Singapore Meteorological Service, the Southeast Asian country is warming twice as rapidly as the rest of the world. If carbon emissions continue to surge, maximum daily temperatures might reach 37 degrees Celsius by 2100.
In May, temperatures soared to a new high of 36.7 degrees Celsius, accompanied by oppressive humidity.
Despite spending tens of millions of dollars each year on island-wide fogging initiatives, public awareness campaigns, and even experimental trials utilising special lab-bred mosquitoes, Singapore government agencies continue to report increases in dengue illnesses and mosquito clusters.
Mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, chikungunya, and dengue will likely continue to spread as climate change worsens and the earth heats up, posing a bigger threat to human health and well-being.
Experts believe the key question now is whether politicians and policymakers, who will be responsible for making the adjustments needed to mitigate climate change, will recognise the impact of mosquito-borne diseases on human health and take action.