How Sri Lanka be­came malaria-free

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Even as Delhi is reel­ing un­der ris­ing mos­quito-borne ill­nesses, tiny Sri Lanka, among the most malaria-af­fected coun­tries not long ago, has to­day been cer­ti­fied malaria-free+ by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO). After the Mal­dives, Sri Lanka is the sec­ond coun­try in WHO’s South-East Asia Re­gion to elim­i­nate malaria. Sixty years ago, Sri Lanka was one of the most malaria af­fected coun­tries. And since Oc­to­ber 2012, indige­nous cases of malaria there have come down to zero. By com­par­i­son, In­dia is third among 15 coun­tries hav­ing the high­est cases of malaria and deaths due to the dis­ease. And while malar­ial deaths have fallen across the world in the last 15 years, the dis­ease is still an acute pub­lic health prob­lem. In 2015 alone, there were an es­ti­mated 214 mil­lion new cases of malaria, and ap­prox­i­mately 4.38 lakh died of the dis­ease. So how did Sri Lanka, a trop­i­cal coun­try, be­come malaria-free? WHO said that the is­land na­tion’s suc­cess comes from a strat­egy shift it made in 1990s. The strat­egy: in­ten­sively tar­get the par­a­site in ad­di­tion to tar­get­ing the mos­quito. “The change in strat­egy was unortho­dox, but highly ef­fec­tive. Mo­bile malaria clin­ics in high trans­mis­sion ar­eas meant that prompt and ef­fec­tive treat­ment could re­duce the par­a­site reser­voir and the pos­si­bil­ity of fur­ther trans­mis­sion. Ef­fec­tive sur­veil­lance, com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and health ed­u­ca­tion, mean­while, en­hanced the abil­ity of au­thor­i­ties to re­spond, and mo­bilised pop­u­lar sup­port for the cam­paign,” a WHO state­ment said. Fur­ther, to main­tain elim­i­na­tion and en­sure the par­a­site is not rein­tro­duced to the coun­try, Sri Lanka’s anti-malaria cam­paign is work­ing closely with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties as well as in­ter­na­tional part­ners to keep up the sur­veil­lance and the re­sponse ca­pac­ity, and to screen high-risk pop­u­la­tions en­ter­ing the coun­try. Con­sid­er­ing that as many as 3.2 bil­lion peo­ple, or al­most half the world’s pop­u­la­tion, are at risk from the dis­ease, Sri Lanka be­com­ing malaria-free is a “re­mark­able pub­lic health achieve­ment” as WHO puts it. “Sri Lanka’s road to elim­i­na­tion was tough, and de­manded well-cal­i­brated, re­spon­sive poli­cies,” WHO said. It is no won­der then that WHO calls Sri Lanka be­com­ing malar­i­afree a “re­mark­able pub­lic health achieve­ment”.

Sri Lanka was one of the most Malaria af­fected coun­tries.

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