Ather Ali Khan - The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of the United States is the top university of the world. In 1890 this university launched its magazine ‘MIT Technology Review’ with the mission to identify important new technologies, deciphering their practical impact and revealing how they will change our lives. The online edition of this trusted magazine of the world’s top university is visited by 24 million people every month. On October 30, 2012 this magazine carried a story headlined: ‘Pakistan uses smartphone data to head off dengue outbreak’. This was in fact tribute to all-out efforts of the Punjab government to prevent spread of mosquito transmitted disease that claimed over 300 lives last year.

Hospitals in Lahore and other big cities of Punjab in September and October last year were crowded with victims of dengue fever that had hit the province like ‘Black Death’. It was the time of tribulation and fear. Newspapers carried front page stories every day with updated death tolls and the number of new patients admitted to hospitals. Dengue fever related reports used to be among top stories in news bulletins. Medical experts of the World Health Organisation and Sri Lanka declared it the worst outbreak of dengue and feared that the deaths could be in thousands.

The dengue epidemic took the people of Punjab by surprise because it had never hit this region at such a large scale. The public turned nervous and frightened. Health experts, doctors and paramedics were not trained and equipped enough to tackle huge influx of dengue patients. However, the provincial government sprang to action immediately. Emergency measures were taken on a war footing. Sprays and fogging machines were imported in large numbers, and special wards were set up in hospitals. Experts were invited from Sri Lanka, Thailand and other foreign countries to train local doctors and medical staff. However, everybody took a sigh of relief when the harsh winter set in and mosquitos were wiped out.

The next challenge for the provincial government was: how the outbreak of this disease could be prevented next year. The fight against tiny creatures of dengue mosquitos was not a simple affair. And that too in the environment where whole health management machinery had devolved after the passage of 18th Amendment and dengue had hit the most densely populated province. It was not only the credibility issue of the most popular political party of Punjab, but the real issue was looming humanitarian crisis as experts warned that thousands of people who survived dengue fever could be at greater risk if they contracted this disease next year.

A multipronged strategy was required to tackle the situation. A dengue larvae surveillance system at the town level was established, a number of local medical staff were sent abroad for training, public representatives were intensively involved and a huge massive awareness drive was launched. Above all it was the commitment of the provincial government to protect its citizens and take every possible step, including the latest technology of smart phones for larvae surveillance, to eliminate dengue fever from the province.

The people of Punjab bid the summer adieu this year with throbbing hearts and anxious nerves. The provincial government started dengue surveillance more intensively and closely. But this year post-summer weather has a different story. The general public feels itself secure now as the winter season is approaching and November has set in, but by the grace of Allah Almighty no death from dengue has been reported. It is first time in the known history of dengue epidemic outbreak that a country uprooted this disease in the short time of one year. The dengue epidemic has been defeated and now experts of other countries are keen to learn from the provincial government of Punjab that how they could tackle this epidemic in their countries. What the Punjab government has achieved is no doubt a herculean task: a year ago the province invited experts, and this year foreign experts have been invited again, but this time they will learn from us. Last year we were victims, but this year we are triumphant.

The outbreak of the disease has been almost averted now for this year at least. But the hard times have taught several lessons to the people of Punjab. It has given confidence to the people of Punjab that they are capable of facing any crisis. It has also proved the popularity the PML-N because mobilization and awareness of the public to eliminate dengue from every home, street and public place was not merely possible by using state machinery only. The public support and recognition by independent foreign institutions are enough for the appreciation of the provincial government and all those who played vital role to uproot dengue. An idiom says ‘the age of miracles is past’. But what the Punjab government has done to eliminate dengue in one year is not less than a miracle.