Remember the last time you had the flu? The exhaustion, the fever, the aching body? Now multiply that by a 100, by 1000 – multiply it until your bones feel like they’re breaking and it’s “a pain you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.” Then you might know what severe dengue fever feels like.
Dengue fever, or dengue, is a growing threat across the globe. Recent decades have seen a dramatic increase in the number and severity of outbreaks – from 1.2 million per year in 1998 to up to at least 50 million annual cases today. Globally, the Southeast Asian and Western Pacific regions bear a significant portion of reported dengue cases, an alarming 75 percent. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Indonesia has reported the highest number of dengue cases among the countries in the region since 2004.
That’s why today’s first annual ASEAN Dengue Day is so important. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, chaired by Indonesia, has come together to bring attention to this important disease and the toll that it is taking on society.
In addition to the human suffering, dengue reaps a huge economic cost. Strategies to control mosquitoes in highly affected areas are costly and difficult to maintain. The cost of dengue in the Americas alone is estimated at $2.1 billion per year, and an estimated 60 percent of the economic strain caused by the disease is the result of indirect costs, such as productivity losses affecting household, employers and the government.
But the situation is not without hope. As we mentioned in March, dengue vaccines are being developed. Pharmaceutical companies across the world, large and small, have answered the call for a more effective tool in the fight against dengue. Numerous candidates are in various stages of testing, with the most advanced possibly ready for market as soon as 2015. The challenge now is to make sure that, not only are these candidates fostered through the development pipeline, but that they reach the most vulnerable populations as soon as they are ready.
Historically, it has taken 10-20 years from the time a vaccine reaches private markets in the developed world to the time it makes it out to the most vulnerable populations. That is not a delay that we can afford to have when it comes to dengue. A successful vaccine will be an integral piece of helping to prevent this disease in its seemingly inexorable spread across the globe. For the first time in over a hundred years, dengue has been seen in the United States, with cases as far apart as Florida, Hawaii and Texas. This is not a disease that can, or should, be ignored – the time to prepare is now.