Accelerating to zero: Eliminating malaria in Sri Lanka

James GordonBy Brittany Zelman
Malaria Elimination Initiative at UCSF

We stand at a pivotal moment in history with the unique opportunity to commit to eradicating malaria. Global strategies and goals influencing the path toward a malaria-free world, such as Roll Back Malaria’s Second Global Malaria Action Plan, the WHO’s Global Technical Strategy for Malaria, and the Sustainable Development Goals, are currently in development. The outcomes will set the tone for malaria efforts in the next 25 years.

We know that eliminating malaria is feasible, and we believe that eradication is possible too. Almost every country had endemic malaria one hundred years ago. Today, just over half of all countries have achieved malaria elimination, with Sri Lanka being the newest addition to the list.

Dutch Canal, Negombo, Sri LankaSri Lanka should be an inspiration for all countries. The island nation has reported zero local cases since October 2012 and the Anti-Malaria Campaign is working hard to prevent reintroduction and obtain malaria-free certification from the WHO.

The road to elimination has not been an easy one for the country, which almost eliminated malaria in the 1960s. At the time, malaria cases were reduced from 37,000 in the 1950s to just 17 in 1963. With such a low burden, Sri Lanka’s government declared success, reduced malaria control interventions, and diverted funding from the malaria program to other health and development priorities. Unfortunately, shifting investments away from malaria resulted in a deadly resurgence event of more than 400,000 malaria cases in 1967.

Over 50 years later, Sri Lanka has regained the success it once had in malaria elimination. As Sri Lanka works towards applying to the WHO for malaria-free certification, will history repeat itself or will political commitment and financing for malaria be sustained?  This question will be one of many discussed this October when world-renowned malaria experts and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health convene at the Malaria Elimination Group’s ninth annual meeting in Colombo. The global meeting will highlight Sri Lanka’s remarkable progress and challenges in getting to zero and holding the line. As a small country with a remarkable success story, Sri Lanka could serve as a beacon for other Asia-Pacific countries that have malaria elimination on their horizon.

 

Photos: James Gordon

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