In 1954 and 1956, respectively, the first epidemics of dengue hemorrhagic fever in Asia were reported in the Philippines. Coming after the first documentation of “Philippine Haemorrhagic Fever,” later known as dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), in Manila in 1953, the epidemics would elicit public concern and mobilize a nascent public health apparatus inherited from the American colonial administration. This paper looks at the political discourses surrounding the epidemics, as well as the ways in which the figured in the popular imagination – both of which have been hitherto overlooked in the literature. By looking at public health and popular responses to the dengue epidemics, this paper offers a glimpse at a relatively-unexplored period in the history of public health in the country – and can help explain how dengue is problematized and imagined in the Philippines at a time when it continues to be a major public health burden.
Gideon Lasco Is a physician, medical anthropologist, and senior lecturer at the Department of Anthropology, University of the Philippines Diliman. He obtained his PhD at the University of Amsterdam. His research interests include height (human stature), drug policy, the cultural aspects of infectious diseases, and the politics of health care.