Washington: Dengue, a major public health threat in countries like India, is estimated to cost the world a whopping USD 8.9 billion annually, higher than several other major infectious diseases such as cholera, canine rabies and rotavirus gastroenteritis, scientists say.
A group of health economists at Brandeis University in the US has published a comprehensive assessment of the economic burden that dengue fever imposes on 141 countries and territories around the world where active dengue transmission has been identified.
At an estimated cost of USD 8.9 billion annually, the price tag for dengue exceeds that of several other major infectious diseases such as cholera, rotavirus gastroenteritis, canine rabies and Chagas disease, said Donald Shepard, lead author of the study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Dengue is the world’s fastest growing mosquito-borne disease, currently threatening about half the world’s population or almost 4 billion people and leading to an estimated 60-100 million symptomatic dengue cases every year.
The disease’s common nickname in the tropical and subtropical countries where it is found is ‘break-bone fever,’ which attests to the degree of suffering it can inflict.
Since it is transmitted by four distinct types of viruses, dengue can hit the same individual up to four times.
Dengue fever is prone to resource-intensive outbreaks that tend to hit hardest in the urban growth centres of endemic countries, like Brazil, Indonesia and India.
In this way, dengue can literally break the back of local health-care systems and lead to intensive associated costs, related both to medical care and lost productivity.
However, dengue fever is not a highly fatal disease and, therefore, it does not typically garner as much attention in terms of traditional measures of disease burden as malaria, for example.
Shepard and his team have published several studies on the economic burden of dengue at the level of individual countries where dengue is a major public health threat such as India, Malaysia, Mexico and the Philippines.
The research took a comprehensive view to assemble all existing evidence to generate a systematic estimate of global economic burden and, for the first time, to replicate this process 1,000 times to generate uncertainty intervals around the central estimate.
“The dearth of population-based data for many elements was the biggest challenge of us. For important parts of the tropics – especially South Asia and Africa – almost no such studies exist, in fact,” said Shepard.
The study provides both global and regional estimates on the cost of dengue, broken down by country and various short- and long-term costs.
By putting a value on the size of the dengue problem, these estimates will help governments and donors make better-informed decisions around their dengue programmes.
“In every country the public purse has more demands than it can satisfy,” said Shepard.