President Rafael Correa on Tuesday asked municipalities to redouble their efforts to fight the chikungunya outbreak that is spreading in Ecuador’s coastal region. The mosquito-borne illness has affected more than 10,000 so far, according to the Ministry of Health.
Correa said that an intense rainy season has left large areas of standing water, increasing the breeding of mosquitoes and the transmission of the disease. He added that he is also concerned about an increase in cases of dengue fever. “The coast has seen an exceptional amount of rain this year,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that this has happened at the same time the disease is spreading.”
Ecuador’s Undersecretary of Health, Itamar Rodriguez, said the chikungunya epidemic has been most intense in Esmeraldas and Manabi Provinces but says it is spreading throughout the coastal area and has recently shown up in Guayaquil. Officially, Rodriguez says that 10,188 cases of the disease have been reported.
In an anonymous letter to the press last week, several Manta doctors said they believed that there “at least twice as many cases” as officially reported. They said the government is purposefully under-counting to avoid “panic is some locations.”
Correa said that chikungunya and dengue are “diseases of poverty,” and the reduction of poverty will lower infection rates in the future. “We need to upgrade our drinking water, sewage systems, and pave more streets and roads,” he said. “This will make a difference.”
He also said that the disease has been “controlled fairly well” so far, but that intensified efforts are needed to stop the spread.
Rodriguez said that Ecuador has fared much better than its neighbors in terms of total cases of chikungunya. In contrast to this country’s 10,000 cases, Colombia has reported 250,000, Peru 125,000, and Venezuela 350,000.
Although chikungunya is rarely fatal, doctors say it is one of the most painful diseases for victims to endure. It is spread by the aedes aegypti mosquito, which is prevalent in wet, low-land areas.