Educate, communicate benefits of dengue vaccine to the people, says advocate

Educate, communicate benefits of dengue vaccine to the people, says advocate
"Educate, communicate benefits of dengue vaccine to the people, says advocate"

As a young man just starting his medical degree in the 1980s, Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail (main image, middle) nearly quit his job.

Recounting his experience, Dr Zulkifli said a young patient under his care died from dengue.

The death haunted him for a few days, and he contemplated quitting. Then, he realised he could do more in the profession. So, he vowed to continue and became an advocate for dengue awareness.

“It hurt me seeing such a young life taken by dengue. At that time, the fatality rate for children was quite high,” said Dr Zulkifli, who is the Dengue Prevention Advocacy Malaysia (DPAM) chairman.

“Thankfully, that is no longer the case, but we still need to find ways to eradicate dengue or to make the symptoms less severe. In some cases, it can lead to disability or death.”

Dr Zulkifli, secretary-general of the Asia Pacific Pediatric Association, said there is likely to be a spike in dengue cases this year, as happens every four years.

“In the early years of my training, we noticed a spike in cases every four years,” said Dr Zulkifli, who is also a consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist at KPJ Selangor.

The statistics back him up as dengue cases in Malaysia increased significantly, with 123,133 cases reported in 2023, marking an 86.3 per cent rise, compared to the previous year.

Dengue-related deaths also increased by 78.6 per cent, with the highest concentration of cases in Selangor.

In the first quarter of 2024, there were 41,565 reported cases and 28 deaths attributed to dengue fever complications, showing a rise, compared to the same period in 2023.

Dr Zulkifli, who was met at the launch of Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda’s new dengue vaccine Qdenga, on June 11, said dengue is in 104 countries, with 70 per cent of the cases in Asia. There has also been a 10-fold increase in cases from 2000.

While welcoming the Qdenga vaccine, Dr Zulkifli admitted to an uphill battle in convincing some parents that it is worth taking the shot.

He added that many people are sceptical of vaccines due to all the misinformation, distrust in science, and fear of adverse effects that came about because of Covid-19.

“We will not force anyone to take the dengue vaccine, but we must do what we can to educate and inform the public about its benefits,” said Dr Zulkifli.

“But they must be made aware of the repercussions of dengue, and how the vaccine can help them.”

He added that DPAM has focused on three main issues since 2023 – policy engagement, research and publication, and public education and democracy.

One event he is excited about is a ‘Masterclass on Management of Dengue’ that DPAM plans to hold soon.

He said the Masterclass is to teach medical professionals all over Malaysia about managing dengue infections to lower fatalities.

Dr Zulkifli said that while the frequency of dengue fever has increased, the fatality rate is still manageable (below 0.2 per cent). He hoped the new vaccine can bring that number down even further.

More than 30 countries have licensed the Qdenga vaccine, and the World Health Organisation recommends that countries consider introducing it into their public immunisation programmes.

It is safe for children aged four, and the vaccine requires two doses, with a three-month gap.

“Prevention is better than cure. If we can administer the vaccine at age four, that would help,” said Dr Zulkifli.

“I believe that with proper information and education, parents will see the need for the vaccine.

“We must be focused on our communication and education efforts, to save lives.”

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