With the number of dengue fever cases topping 105,000 cases and 300 deaths so far in 2017, the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are rapidly scaling up emergency assistance to help contain the country’s worst-ever outbreak of the mosquito-borne viral disease.

Aedes aegypti/CDC
Aedes aegypti/CDC

Dengue patients are streaming into overcrowded hospitals that are stretched beyond capacity and struggling to cope, particularly in the country’s hardest hit Western Province.

Dengue is endemic here, but one reason for the dramatic rise in cases is that the virus currently spreading has evolved and people lack the immunity to fight off the new strain,” says Dr Novil Wijesekara, Head of Health at the Sri Lanka Red Cross.

Compounding the crisis, recent monsoon rains and floods have left pools of stagnant water and rotting rain-soaked trash—ideal breeding sites for mosquitoes. Ongoing downpours and worsening sanitation conditions raise concerns the disease will continue to spread.

Teams of Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers have been supporting a large-scale government effort to stem the outbreak—providing patient care at hospitals and going door-to-door with public health inspectors to raise awareness about the disease, its symptoms and how to prevent its spread. Volunteers have also been helping authorities to identify and clean sites where mosquitoes are breeding.

Today, IFRC released new Disaster Relief Emergency Funds to the Sri Lanka Red Cross to vastly expand the response over the next six months, aiming to assist 307,000 people in the districts of Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara where dengue is rampant.

In coordination with government partners, Red Cross teams are set to expand patient care at six priority hospitals and improve or install water and sanitation at nine medical facilities.

Additional teams of volunteers will be trained to identify and eliminate vector breeding sites, and then deploy to 72 vulnerable communities to lead household, school and community information and clean-up campaigns.

The size of this dengue outbreak is unprecedented in Sri Lanka,” says Jagath Abeysinghe, President of Sri Lanka Red Cross. “It will require a united front in support of the government’s prevention and control programme and committed community action to tackle it.”

Dengue is one of the world’s fastest growing diseases, endemic in 100 countries, with as many as 390 million infections annually, according to the World Health Organization. Early detection and treatment saves lives when infections are severe, particularly for young children.