KATHMANDU, Nov 30: Nepalese authorities should urgently strengthen public health systems that have struggled during an outbreak of dengue fever in recent months, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday. Dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases are expected to become more widespread and severe in Nepal as a result of warming temperatures linked to climate change.
As of November 20, 2022, more than 52,557 dengue cases have been reported in Nepal since the beginning of the year and 60 deaths attributed to the disease, according to government statistics. There have also been large outbreaks in neighboring India. Dengue is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause a range of symptoms. In critical cases, people with dengue may require hospitalization and urgent platelet transfusions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading authority on climate science, “There is high confidence that climate change has caused the expansion of vector-borne diseases that infect humans at high altitudes in Nepal.”
“As temperatures rise, the federal and local governments must work together to protect people from the growing threat of disease outbreaks,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement released by HRW. . “Governments of countries that have been most responsible for emissions driving climate change should support Nepal’s efforts, including access to vaccines.”
Rich countries, whose greenhouse gas emissions are mainly responsible for climate change, should honor their climate finance commitments and do more to support Nepal in responding to climate disasters, Human Rights Watch said .
According to the Panel on Climate Change, temperatures in the Himalayan region have risen faster than global average rates and are projected to continue to rise faster than the global average. The panel also warned that “viruses such as dengue, chikungunya and Japanese encephalitis are emerging in Nepal in the hill and mountain areas.”
When people who have been infected with dengue become infected a second time with a different variant, severe symptoms can develop, leading experts to believe that Nepal is vulnerable to even more serious outbreaks in the near future. Doctors also fear that the Zika virus, which can cause babies to be born with microcephaly, could be spread to Nepal in the near future by the same mosquitoes.
Nepal has had annual dengue outbreaks since 2006. The previous largest outbreak was in 2019, with nearly 18,000 reported cases. The 2022 outbreak, nearly three times larger, also saw cases over a longer season. While in previous years dengue cases were found at lower altitudes, in 2022 dengue has spread to at least 76 of Nepal’s 77 districts, including high-altitude regions.
“This is linked to climate change because the rate of warming is much greater at higher altitudes,” said Dr Megnath Dhimal, a government expert on public health and a contributor to the IPCC report. “We need to improve our infrastructure and capacity for future outbreaks. The most [climate]- vulnerable countries are developing countries like Nepal.”