The archbishop of the Sri Lankan capital has called on his Catholics to observe a week of prayer and fasting, beginning on Saturday, to obtain God’s graces to help deal with deadly mosquito-borne dengue fever that has killed more than 230 in Sri Lanka this year. "Let's pray to the Blessed Mother and all the saints, that they may intercede for us at this time of need," said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, asking his faithful to join a week of prayer and fasting, 15-23 July.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health reported this week that more than 87,600 suspected cases of the infection have been reported in 2017. Dengue is endemic in Sri Lanka, but the number of infections this year is already about 38 per cent higher than 2016, when 55,150 people were diagnosed with dengue and 97 died. Experts say the virus is a particularly virulent strain that is new to Sri Lanka, and therefore immunity is low. Hospitals across the country are seeing patients suffering from high fever, severe pain, vomiting, skin rashes and other symptoms of the disease, with the largest caseloads in the western provinces of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara and Trincomalee.
Card Ranjith, who is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL), 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 Cardinal 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." "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," he urged.
Colombo and its surrounding areas are the worst affected. Humid monsoon weather, stagnant water from recent flooding, as well as mounting piles of rotting garbage accumulating in the capital, have combined to create abundant grounds for mosquitoes to breed.
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.