In a breakthrough achievement, the World Health Organisation on Monday declared Sri Lanka as malaria-free, thus, making it the second country in the region to eradicate malaria after Maldives.
From being termed as the worst-affected country by malaria 60 years ago to now being declared as a malaria-free nation, Sri Lanka has definitely come a long way in terms of tackling the menace of mosquito-borne diseases, and the WHO has rightly called it a “remarkable public health achievement.”
However, the road to eliminating malaria was not easy for Sri Lanka. It was achieved through sustained efforts from the side of the government as well as the communities concerned, coupled with well-calibrated policies.
How did Sri Lanka eradicate malaria?
Sri Lanka’s strong public health system is definitely one of the key reasons for this breakthrough. Health workers were properly trained to deal with malaria-related cases and the early diagnosis and swift treatment by these health workers with special focus on high-risk areas helped in decreasing the number of malaria-related deaths significantly. Additionally, an efficient sanitation system along with other methods that lowered mosquito breeding supplemented the strong health care system that was in place.
Talking about the various unconventional steps that were taken under the Anti-malaria Campaign designed by the health ministry, the web-based surveillance system was one of the most effective strategies. All fever cases were tested for malaria and each case was reported under the AMC. The officials kept a close watch on tourists, immigrants, pilgrims, armed forces on peace keeping missions etc.
Rationing of medicines was another step that was taken in the direction of providing affordable health care facilities to patients affected by malaria. All the malaria-related medicines were kept with AMC, forcing the private sector hospitals to notify all such cases with the health ministry.
Further, the government ran a 24*7 hotline for patients in isolation to stop the possibility of further transmission. Through the hotline, the patients were tracked and treated, which helped in bringing down malaria cases to a great extent.
Apart from all the above mentioned efforts, one of the major reasons for this feat was the fact that the AMC, in early 1990s, moved from a mosquito-control strategy to parasite-control strategy. Ever since, the malaria cases in the country saw a steady decline.
The relentless grass roots level community engagement cannot be ignored while talking about the Sri Lankan success story. No public health policy can work without the constant engagement of the citizens concerned. And in the case of Sri Lanka, due to better awareness and successful health education, citizens did not wait until it was too late and also played a role in the fruitful implementation of the health policies.
What can India learn from its neighbour?
Sri Lanka’s achievement comes at a time when different states of India are grappling with an upsurge of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya.
Various aspects of the AMC can be adopted in the Indian context to develop a proper surveillance system for the deadly disease. The private hospitals in the country should be asked to record all malaria-related cases with the health ministry, which can then devise a target-based approach to fight the infection.
Further, the central government and the respective state governments should also focus on providing more social, financial and technical support for facilitating the eradication process.
For a country that receives four times as much rainfall than India, the process of eliminating malaria was an uphill task. Yet, the island nation rose to the challenge, giving various other countries a much-needed reality check and inspiration. With more than thousand people dying due to Malaria every year, the Sri Lankan story can teach India a lesson or two in terms of combating the mosquito menace.
Sources: TOI , The Guardian