Bui Huong invites people into her home with a bright smile. She lives in Long Tuyen, a neighborhood in Can Tho city, with her husband, sister, and three sons. They have a small garden and some fruit trees in their yard. Her husband is a bricklayer, while she runs errands for local businesses and homeowners in her neighborhood. Her youngest son is still in school and the older ones do odd jobs.
Huong says she’s heard on the radio about dengue fever outbreaks in remote parts of the country. Indeed, Huong notices that these incidents seem to be becoming more frequent, and she is thankful that she has not experienced the disease herself. “The temperature around here is getting more extreme”, she remarks. “It’s either too hot, or the monsoon rains are too heavy, or it’s too cold!”
Viet Van Nguyen, a district health worker and head of the Dengue Fever Surveillance Project under theAsian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), speaks of the extensive research studies showing how the two phenomena that Huong speaks of are connected: climate change clearly aggravates disease outbreaks.
The first phase of this project was intended to use data collected from medical colleges and villages to illustrate the correlation.
“When temperatures rise, there is an increase in mosquitoes helping to spread dengue fever… even during the dry season, we are getting abnormal rains so mosquitoes are still flourishing.“
“When temperatures rise, there is an increase in mosquitoes helping to spread dengue fever,” Nguyen explains. “We’ve also noticed that even during the dry season, we are getting abnormal rains so mosquitoes are still flourishing.” He adds that the project is conducting baseline surveys, so that its impact may be assessed later.
The project, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, brings together local governments, NGOs, and researchers to share data and learn on how to make health systems more responsive, flexible, and ultimately resilient to climate change.
“With greater capacity and more coordination, decision-makers at the local and national levels, together with other stakeholders, can ensure that individuals and communities can prevent, respond rapidly to, and bounce back from public health challenges,” says Ashvin Dayal, Associate Vice President and Managing Director for Asia at The Rockefeller Foundation.
Dengue fever usually strikes in communities that are already vulnerable, owing to poor living conditions and little access to affordable health facilities. The medical services needed to treat the disease can be costly, and there are times when families have had to exhaust their savings or even borrow money to pay for fees and medicine, exposing them to financial risk.
Healthcare workers, such as Nguyen Thi Mai at the Long Tuyen Health Center, have been receiving special training and in-depth information on climate change and diseases like dengue fever, helping them to understand the importance of preventative measures.
The district, ward, and city healthcare centers have all been participating in the surveillance project, attending meetings and then disseminating information to at-risk communities.
Mai describes how she’s been going door to door, meeting with families, sharing her knowledge, getting a sense of what people already know, and explaining how people can reduce risky behavior in their daily lives. This has also strengthened the network of healthcare centers, with greater dialogue developing among the workers and members of the community.
Huong would occasionally cover her water containers, but it was not a consistent habit. However, following visits from her local healthcare worker, and after hearing from her son about what he’s learned in school, she has started turning her empty vessels upside down, covering her water containers, keeping the surrounding environment cleaner, and cutting back bushes more frequently.
“I didn’t realize the connection between increasing floods and heat with the outbreaks. After the healthcare workers came to my house, they made it clear that I needed to be more vigilant about preventative measures.“
She explains, “I didn’t realize the connection between increasing floods and heat with the outbreaks. After the healthcare workers came to my house, they made it clear that I needed to be more vigilant about preventative measures.” She says she feels confident that her family will be able to stay disease-free now.
Nyugen has high hopes for this project. “While we are still in the research and capacity building phase right now,” he says, “after we start implementing the pilot programs we want Can Tho to serve as a model city for disease prevention in Vietnam. This is why we are emphasizing a multi-stakeholder approach, working with the government health departments, local medical colleges, healthcare centers, and—of course—local communities.”
He adds with pride that his team would like to invite local government officials from all over the country to study their model, so that they too will be able to build more resilient and sustainable cities.