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Malaysia criticises WHO over lack of action in dengue battle

Malaysia criticised the WHO on Wednesday for failing to tackle the spread of dengue in the region, which saw 242,000 cases of the mosquito-borne disease in 2009 and 831 deaths so far this year.

Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai, who is chairing a World Health Organisation regional conference this week, said the UN body needed to push countries to adopt a more comprehensive strategy to deal with the threat.

"We want them to do a lot more. We want the WHO to do more on dengue, we think they are not doing enough," he told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting of the organisation's Asia Pacific member states.

Malaysia itself is reeling from a 53 percent increase in dengue, with about 38,000 cases and 117 deaths so far this year.

"We want the WHO to... implement more comprehensive measures to eradicate this communicable disease effectively. We urge the WHO to pay more attention to dengue," Liow said.

"It is multi-pronged, it cannot just be handled by the health ministry. The WHO must come in forcefully (and) enable more governments... to take the whole government approach.

"In some other countries they only leave (dengue prevention) to the health ministry. The WHO must enable a multi-agency, inter-ministry approach as well as a community approach to come in."

Liow said the WHO was closely following Malaysia's proposed field trials later this year of genetically modified anti-dengue mosquitoes.

"The WHO is keen to look into our transgenic mosquito experiment because for them this is a breakthrough," he said.

"We are the first country to go into this and they expect some breakthrough so we can handle the disease effectively."

WHO regional director Shin Young-soo said the the global body was working with member countries to tackle the dengue menace, saying that Malaysia and other countries in the region faced a "very serious situation".

"The number of cases have doubled in the region over the past 10 years and all the signs are that the situation will get worse," he said.

"We are working with governments on how to strengthen surveillance systems, how to improve detection and on preparedness," he said.

"But the reality is that... people need to realise that fighting this disease is not only the government's job but everyone's responsibility. People have to protect their own health and take preventive action to eliminate the mosquitoes that spread the disease."

WHO regional figures show there were 212,988 dengue cases with 674 deaths in 2008, increasing to 242,424 cases and 785 deaths last year. There have been 204,759 cases with 831 deaths so far this year.

John Ehrenberg, the WHO's communicable diseases expert, said that dengue had traditionally been an urban problem, but was now now affecting rural areas.

"This is because of the increase in population density, movement of people and their habits which create breeding sites," he said, adding that people with no public services had to collect water in buckets and tanks.

Standing water attracts dengue-carrying mosquitoes.

"At present, 40 percent of the world's population is at risk of dengue," he said. "It's not only being detected more, it's also increasing."