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Dengue Hotline

by Sohaib Rizvi

Punjab combating dengue fever lauded globally.

Nobody knew what will be the fate of Lahorites when dengue hit the town three years ago. Even the government, especially the health officials were caught off guard. The world was shocked too. Lahore is hardly a ‘tropical’ breeding ground for dengue mosquitoes.

However, the Punjab government with its allied department Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), headed by Dr. Umar Saif came up with an effective idea of establishing a hotline to report the dengue fever in any locality. Hence, in no time at all when you compare it with the other parts of the world (Thailand, Sri Lanka and others) where dengue is a menace and governments spend over decades to control the death from dengue fever, Pakistan was able to contain the epidemic into unbelievable manageable bits.

In a recent study published with the title ‘Fine-grained dengue forecasting using telephone triage services’ by Scienceadvances stated Punjab province in Pakistan, with a population of close to 100 million was affected by a dengue epidemic in 2011. More than 21,000 dengue patients were reported, most of them from the city of Lahore. There was no mechanism to detect the epidemic early or to localize the outbreaks, resulting in the loss of more than 350 lives.

“We’d never had a dengue outbreak of this sort before,” says Dr. Umar Saif, chairman of the PITB and a coauthor of the study.

The PITB used a simple phone-based helpline facility (telephone triage service) to develop an early epidemic warning system for dengue in Pakistan which not only provides an accurate measure of future disease cases at a fine-grained sub-city level, also flags an outbreak and makes an accurate forecast of both the number of patients and their locations 2 to 3 weeks ahead of time.

The study is reported in the world renowned publications, including the New York Times, IEEE Spectrum and NPR.

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