) – Since the beginning of the year, dengue fever has killed at least 225 people in Sri Lanka. It is a real epidemic, the worst ever.
The number of infections nationwide is already 38 per cent higher than last year, when more than 55,000 people were diagnosed with dengue and 97 died, this according to the Health Ministry. The capital region is the most affected area.
In view of the situation, Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, called on Catholics in the Archdiocese to observe a week of prayer and fasting, 15-23 July. "Let's pray to the Blessed Mother," he said, "and all the saints, that they may intercede for us at this time of need."
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. Last month's heavy rains left the cities waterlogged, with puddles and rain-soaked garbage providing ideal spots for mosquitoes to breed and multiply.
This year's strain is particularly dangerous, said Dr Priscilla Samaraweera of the National Dengue Eradication Unit. There is no cure for any of the four strains of the virus, which causes a high fever, weeks of exhaustion and in some cases a vicious skin rash. Patients most at risk of dying are the elderly, children or those with other medical complications.
The authorities are trying to find a solution. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena urged the public to co-operate with officials trying to fight the disease
In Colombo alone, about 25 teams of soldiers, police officers and public health inspectors were deployed in searching dengue mosquito-breeding places and clearing process door to door and advising people to clear clogged drains and empty outdoor pots that might have filled with rainwater.
In total, the government has deployed 400 soldiers and police officers to clear away rotting garbage, stagnant water pools and other possible mosquito-breeding grounds.
Card Ranjith called on Catholics to hold a novena dedicated to Saint Sebastian, protector against the plague.
"I recommend special prayers at the Holy Mass during the week,” he said, “and the possible celebration of a triduum on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 21-23 July, in al parishes, including an eventual procession and blessing of the statue with our Blessed Mother, Saint Sebastian, and all the other saints known for their powerful intercession in our illnesses."
The prelate also called for “actions of special charity towards the needy, a campaign to eradicate possible mosquito breeding grounds, a clean-up of the surroundings, and acts of fasting and penance in expiation for our weaknesses and sins."
He ended saying, "Let us storm Heaven with our prayers and acts of renunciation, so that the Good Lord may bless our country, save it from this epidemic and grant our people blessings and good health."