Local film crew documents Dengue fever epidemic on Fogo
By Andy Buckley, photos by Feleke Astatkie
The hospital on Fogo is the quietest place we've encountered on these islands. The normally loud and gregarious people of Cape Verde that we have come to know over the past few days, here are hushed.
Crowds of family members ring the hospital, wait in line at the emergency room, outside the pediatric ward, and lie in their beds inside the mosquito-netted tents set up in the courtyard. All so quiet, with the only sound the arrival of the ambulance or the occasional retching coming from the tents.
The weather is like Chatham in early August. Overcast, very humid, about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and no wind. Great weather for the spreading of a mosquito-borne-disease in a country mostly devoid of screens on windows.
The symptoms of Dengue fever, as has been described to me, are similar to the flu but much more severe. The worst is the utter pain in the joints. The worst complication, in a small percentage of cases, is the disease becomes hemorrhagic, with the patient bleeding out.
In the West, that symptom would scare us the most. But in a country where simple sanitation and medicines can be challenging, it is dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea that typically leads to death. Those who succumb are typically the most vulnerable – small children and the elderly.
After weaving our way through the tents, each holding ten patients, we were able to talk with Jose Nunes, who works in the lab, testing patients. Of the various strains of dengue, only one had been identified on Fogo. Nunes reported that thankfully this is not the hemorrhagic strain. Still the heavy case load has been taking its toll on the hospital staff. Nunes reported he worked all day, finally leaving at 10 AM. Ninety patients came to be tested yesterday, and of those, 30 were admitted.
Speaking next with Dr. Mario Sena, director of the hospital, we learned that of the 37,000 people on Fogo, 2,000 were infected with Dengue. There have been no deaths here, but six have died nationwide since the outbreak began in October. The hospital typically has 55 beds, but the two tents have increased capacity, and space was made in the doctor’s offices for more cots.
For all this demand, the seven boxes we helped deliver seemed like a drop in the bucket. Tylenol. Hand sanitizer. Cotton balls. Alcohol. Rubber gloves. The basics of medicine. The sorts of things we take for granted in any home.
Next, we move onto Maio, the least populated of the islands, and the driest. Still, it has been plagued by dengue as has its sister islands. A plane back to the capital city of Praia and the high speed ferry to the Isle of May. We have a long day ahead of us.
For information on how to assist in the relief effort against dengue in Cape Verde, contact Luisa Schaffer at BNHC at (508) 894-3613 or [email protected].
Read Part One, "Chatham video crew arrive on Cape Verde Islands" here.