At first glance, the inhabitants of Cape Verde's capital Praia seem serene and undaunted. But as soon as the conversation turns towards dengue fever, they become deeply worried and anxious.
"Whether they admit it or not, everyone is afraid of catching dengue fever. This is understandable since no one knew of the disease before", says Tatiana Alfama, a Cape Verde Red Cross volunteer and relief department coordinator.
Nearly 15,000 cases
While the first cases of dengue fever in the Cape Verde archipelago occurred already in late September, the disease didn't start to spread significantly before early November. On the island of Santiago (population 240,000), the number of patients exceeded the capacity of the hospitals so that tents had to be put up to take care of the unprecedented crowds. As of 13 November, 14,446 cases of dengue fever had been recorded, including six deaths, and 118 cases of hemorrhagic fever, the most dangerous strain of the disease.
Whole nation fights against dengue
Fighting dengue fever has become a national priority. With the support of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Cape Verde Red Cross plays a very active role in the initiatives launched nationwide, together with the Ministry of Health and other partners.
Hundreds of volunteers have been mobilised to inform people how the dengue fever can be prevented. In addition, volunteers have been involved in cleanup campaigns that attempt to stop the spread of the disease.
"Last week, everybody worked together against dengue fever on Santiago. The communities really helped us to collect garbage and to destroy the breeding grounds of the mosquitoes who are the carriers of the disease," explains Tatiana, one of these volunteers who is taking part in the cleanup campaigns. "People's motivation to help comes from their survival instinct since everyone has at least one family member, friend or acquaintance that caught the fever," she adds.
The progress made on Santiago encouraged the government to repeat the same steps on Maio, another dengue-affected islands.
Collaboration with health facilities
Cape Verde Red Cross volunteers are also assisting health workers at the Praia general hospital, which cares for hundreds of patients every day. Tatiana manages the volunteers who come to help.
"The volunteers welcome the patients, give them information, provide them with psychological assistance, refer them to other services at the request of health workers, and write up patients' records. They also carry messages between patients and their families left at home," explains Tatiana.
Dr. Freire, from the Praia general hospital, adds: "Red Cross volunteers do tremendous work. It is wonderful to work with them and without their support, we could hardly handle the large influx of patients."
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) disbursed 153.900 Swiss francs (152,100 US dollars; 101,800 euro) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to assist the Cape Verde Red Cross in the fight against dengue fever.