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World Dengue Day at the Asia Dengue Summit

The 4th Asia Dengue Summit took place in Jakarta, Indonesia, in July 2019, bringing together dengue experts from academies and research institutions, representatives from Ministries of Health, the regional and global World Health Organization (WHO) and numerous national and international groups who participated to provide a broad overview of the current status of dengue and its management across Asia. As part of the summit, Kamran Rafiq, co-founder and Communications Director at the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases, presented the World Dengue Day petition and its role in the future of dengue awareness and control. We spoke with Kamran Rafiq about the impact of the summit and the role of a global movement such as the one behind the World Dengue Day petition in bridging the gaps to disseminate the knowledge and advocacy about dengue.

What was the overall aim of the 4th Asia Dengue Summit?

The summit was co-convened by Asian Dengue Vaccination Advocacy (ADVA), the Global Dengue and Aedes transmitted Diseases Consortium (GDAC), Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Tropical Medicine and Public Health Network (SEAMEO TROPMED) and the Fondation Mérieux, and covered a wide range of aspects such as updates on the basic science of dengue (advances in dengue pathogenesis, molecular diagnostics, dengue classification…), dengue vector control, vaccination updates. A series of workshops was also hosted by the Indonesia Medical Education and Research Institute (IMERI) at the University of Indonesia.

Dengue is endemic in Asia with severe outbreaks particularly plaguing nations since the start of 2019. The summit provided an opportunity to showcase and discuss the research, prevention strategies and responses deployed over the last 50 years, both in Indonesia, the summit’s host country, as well as numerous neighbouring countries and explore the road ahead in terms of partnerships needed to sustain and accelerate dengue control.

What were some of the main take-home lessons from the 4th Asia Dengue Summit?

The summit was very useful in highlighting some of the main priorities facing Asian countries, and in fact nations worldwide, in terms of combatting dengue. A recurrent observation concerned the training and capacity gaps that remain in terms of professionals tackling dengue, as well as knowledge and advocacy gaps both at the professional, policymaking and community level.

On the one hand, there needs to be increased investment in training the healthcare professionals in the diagnosis as well as the case management of dengue patients. Early detection and rapid adequate case management can substantially reduce the impact of dengue infections.

There is also an urgent need to rebuild some of the capacity and technical knowledge in the field of vector control – there has been a decline in the number and expertise of vector control professionals and measures such as boosting training as well as career prospects would be important in attracting further skilled professionals into this field.

Thirdly, more public engagement efforts need to be made to increase advocacy and awareness of dengue fever within communities, and also with policymakers. In terms of community engagement, increasing communication about transmission cycles and prevention measures at the public level are crucial to improve the intervention of communities in dengue prevention, whether in terms of destroying breeding grounds, avoiding mosquito exposure or seeking vaccination. Conversely, gaps in communication have led to misinformation or even fake news, leading to issues such as the public seeking self-medication as well as vaccine hesitancy and vaccine confidence. It is also important to link dengue communications to wider public health issues and partners; for instance, vaccine hesitancy in one disease has an impact on global vaccination coverage as rates drop, and a better understanding and awareness of dengue can spill over into prevention of other mosquito-borne diseases.

What were some of the highlights of the summit?

What was noteworthy about the Asia Dengue Summit was the variety of research and viewpoints involved – this was conducive to a real spirit of convergence in terms of multidisciplinary strategies to tackle dengue fever. For example, discussions in vector control were well balanced with work from many varied fields such as molecular biology, climate change, clinical manifestations … It was also very encouraging having the participation of policy makers at numerous levels including national governments and the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO), as well as numerous presentations from distinguished researchers and advocates.

How can a World Dengue Day reinforce the messages and spirit of the international dengue research and control community?

Many of the messages we heard at the summit from a wide range of partners, as described above, are very close to the heart of both the ISNTD and the global campaign for a World Dengue Day. Such a day would provide an annual global opportunity to highlight and amplify the research, advocacy and prevention messages developed by individual researchers and organisations worldwide, and provide a solid platform to address some of the advocacy and communication gaps which were discussed. We feel that this would be a useful and versatile rallying point for both the professional community as well as the all important engagement of the public in the prevention and control of the disease and its vectors.

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