Kathmandu, April 25
With the world at a cross-roads in the quest to defeat malaria, the WHO South-East Asia region stands tall.
Between 2015 and 2017, the region reduced its estimated malaria case load by 56 per cent, from 25.5 million to 11.3 million. Between 2015 and 2017 the total number of cases presumed and confirmed decreased by 25 per cent and reported mortality was more than halved.
Maldives and Sri Lanka remain malaria-free, while seven of the region’s nine malaria endemic member states including Nepal are set to be well on the way to reduce case incidence by 40 per cent by 2020.
“As reflected in the 2017 ‘Ministerial Declaration on Accelerating and Sustaining Malaria Elimination in the South-East Asia Region’, each of the region’s member states is committed to fully routing the disease and achieving a malaria-free South-East Asia region by 2030,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for South-East Asia.
She said, “Whether high or low burden, making that happen demands each of them strengthen high-impact, country-led and owned approaches, with civil society playing a key role, as per the theme of this year’s World Malaria Day – ‘zero malaria starts with me’.
She suggested that member states should fully operationalise the 2017 Ministerial Declaration. That means mobilising adequate and sustained funding for national malaria programmes — including from external partners — and distributing it appropriately and efficiently at every level of implementation.
Among other imperatives, it also means ensuring communities at the grassroots are empowered to act, and have access to long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying and quality-assured diagnosis and treatment, as per national strategies.
She said, “Member States should ensure malaria is a notifiable disease and transform surveillance into a core intervention. To that end, cross-border collaboration is crucial.”
A cross-border response will allow authorities to respond to outbreaks more efficiently and better protect vulnerable populations in border areas, which are often malaria-prone. It will also enhance country-to-country capacity building, including in research. As part of this, a region-wide mechanism — with specific focus on drug and insecticide-resistance — is needed to integrate malaria surveillance and help achieve these outcomes.
She said, “Region-wide advocacy aimed at ensuring malaria remains a core political issue must stay strong. While this is especially important in high and medium burden countries, it is also crucial in countries where sub-national elimination is proving troublesome, and where malaria has, like many diseases before it, become a symbol of exclusion, neglect and marginalisation.”
A version of this article appears in print on April 26, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.