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Sri Lanka: Government Campaign Against Dengue Relies on Fines

(Mar. 7, 2011) Sri Lanka has resorted to fining individuals and businesses that do not take the necessary actions to curtail mosquito breeding as a part of the country's efforts to fight dengue fever. The program has proved to be successful, with a reduction in the rate of infection in 2011, despite widespread flooding in the last year. Although the campaign is just beginning to be successful, the chief epidemiologist of the epidemiology unit of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sudath Peiris, is encouraged by indications that the government's efforts, including punitive ones, are having an impact. (Amantha Perera, Sri Lanka Using Fines to Beat Dengue amid Rising Climate Risk, ALERTNET (Mar. 2, 2011).)

The campaign was initiated through a circular sent in May 2010 to regional health offices, with advice about curbing the disease after an area experiences a flood. In the first two months of 2011, following flash floods, health officials visited local communities to warn of the danger and lead public education campaigns. The head of the regional health office in Batticaloa District, which experienced severe flooding, stated that they “had teams on the ground instructing people on how to dispose of garbage, looking into the sanitary facilities and (conditions for) vulnerable groups like pregnant women and infants.” (Id.) In addition, military personnel were sent to clean up public breeding grounds for insects, and bacteria were introduced into standing flood waters to kill mosquito larvae. (Id.)

Fines have been levied on those dumping garbage in unauthorized locations. In one case, a bank manager in Anuradhapura, a town in the north-central region of the country, was fined the equivalent of $130 because stagnant water and old tires were found on the business premises. In another, water systems installed in housing built for survivors of the 2004 tsunami allowed water to remain in stagnant pools. The head of the nongovernmental organization involved in the construction has been ordered to appear in court. Peiris argued that potential penalties had a positive effect. “The moment people realised they risked fines and possible jail time, they became more serious about keeping the environment they live in clean,” he said. (Id.)

Dengue fever has killed over 500 people in Sri Lanka since January 2009, with more than 70,000 contracting the serious, mosquito-spread disease. (Id.) According to the World Health Organization, cases of the disease have increased dramatically in recent decades, causing two-fifths of the world's population to be at risk of infection. (Factsheet No. 117: Dengue and Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever, WHO website (Mar. 2009).)