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[KARACHI] Finding itself scientifically ill-equipped to tackle a current dengue outbreak, Pakistan is seeking research collaboration with other Asian countries to improve prevention and diagnosis.

According to Pakistan’s National Health Department, as of 21 September, dengue fever had killed over 60 people and affected over 8,000 across the country since its outbreak in the first week of August.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has approved the sharing of dengue research data to improve Pakistan’s diagnostic capacity, Hasitha Tisserra, leader of a visiting team of Sri Lankan dengue experts, told Pakistani health officials in Lahore last week (15 September).

The two countries would sign an agreement next month (30 October), to allow Sri Lankan scientists to train Pakistanis in dengue diagnostics, Javed Akram, chief executive, Government Jinnah Hospital, Lahore, told SciDev.Net.

Sri Lanka's three decades of experience in tackling dengue will help Pakistan overcome gaps in scientific knowledge on vector control and diagnostic technology, he said.

Akram said, "Pakistan has also sought short-term and long-term research collaborations on dengue vector control and prevention; and scientific exchange programmes with other Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand."

These would cover studies on dengue-spreading mosquito strains and patterns of spread of the disease, he said.

At a conference on dengue in Islamabad, this week (19 September), Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called upon the WHO, Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNICEF and the United States Agency for International Development to help his country draw up a national dengue policy.

Such a policy may draw upon expertise from other Asian countries battling dengue, including India.

Zafar Iqbal, chairman, Sheikh Zayed Hospital, Lahore, observed that Pakistan urgently needed to "plug the yawning diagnostic technology gap" and import advanced diagnostic kits.

One hurdle in improving diagnostic capacity, he said, was lack of funds to set up modern diagnostic labs.  

Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation, Manzoor Soomro, blamed the "absence of an efficient surveillance system employing the latest technologies" for the rise in dengue cases.

Soomro commented that improving dengue surveillance was missing from the planned research collaborations.

Scientists from Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he said, must conduct joint research on developing a viable, adaptable surveillance system, given the potential for future outbreaks with greater severity.