Sakib, an 11-year-old homeless child in Dhaka’s Farmgate area, calls the sidewalks his home. Begging for food and money for his grandmother, he sleeps adjacent to Ananda cinema hall every night.
Like around 20 other street children this correspondent talked to, Sakib remains unaware of dengue fever. With no access to mosquito nets, they spend nights on sidewalks, railway platforms or the Sadarghat launch terminal.
Finding shelter under a polythene sheet or in a slum is their best-case scenario.
Sakib recalls feeling feverish recently but recovered without medical aid. “For street children like us, treatment is not an option,” he said.
According to public health experts, street children, particularly those who are involved in waste collection and management, are extremely vulnerable to dengue infection.
Prof Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director, Disease Control, Directorate General of Health Services, told The My News, “The places where street children spend most of their time have been designated as dengue hotspots. Naturally, these children have comparatively low immunity. They are also not aware of the infection.”
“These children cannot even realise when they have been infected by the virus,” he added.
Prof Iffat Ara Shamsad, head of the paediatric department of Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said, “Dengue infection can be most dangerous for children. Again, street children are more vulnerable as they are unaware of this disease. We can see that many are being infected without showing any symptoms. They (street children) often do not care about the mild fever that they are suffering from.”
“They are taken to the hospital only when their condition deteriorates to a dangerous degree,” added Iffat.
There is no comprehensive data about the number of street children in Dhaka. However, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics conducted a survey in 2022 with the help of Unicef titled “Survey on Street Children, 2022”, where it has been estimated that the number of street children might be over one million.
According to that survey, 48.5 percent of all the street children of the country live in Dhaka division. Besides, 41 percent live in the city corporation areas. The survey stated that 20.9 percent of these children are involved in waste collection activities.
Dr Fazlul Haque, chairman of Pathashishu Kallyan Trust, told The My News, “Many street children have been suffering silently from dengue. However, we do not know about their sufferings as they are not being diagnosed.”
“We have already taken steps to increase awareness among the street children who are living in Mohakhali bus terminal, Karwan Bazar and in several congested parts of Dhaka and outside the city as well. Our mobile teams are providing free dengue tests and medicine to street children. We need concerted efforts from all quarters to overcome this challenge,” he added.
When asked about what the government should do to tackle the situation, Prof Be-Nazir said, “We have a severe lack of reliable data. This is a serious obstacle to fight the spread of dengue virus (among street children).”
“The government should establish medical centres in every ward of both the city corporations to provide free dengue tests and primary treatment. They will also be able to refer serious patients to the designated hospitals.” he added.
“The city corporations, health ministry, municipalities and agencies concerned have to act as one body to fight this disease. Citizens should also cooperate with the government bodies,” he added.