The Maldives holds South-East Asia’s record for being malaria-free. Meanwhile, the region is falling behind as one-third of affected countries show signs of eliminating the vector-borne disease over the next ten years.
Dr Robert Newman, director of the Global Malaria Program of World Health Organisation (WHO) said malaria control has improved significantly. “The world has made remarkable progress with malaria control. Better diagnostic testing and surveillance has shown that there are countries eliminating malaria in all endemic regions of the world.”
Malaria affects 40 percent of the world population. While the Maldives had a volatile track record in the 1970s, peaking at 1100 cases in 1976, virtually no cases of local origins have been reported since 1984.
Director General of Health Services Dr. Ibrahim Yasir said the only malaria cases have involved foreigners or Maldivians who have traveled to regions where the disease is endemic.
“A few times a year a foreigner might come who has been infected elsewhere, or in a recent case a Maldivian boat capsized near Africa and those on board contracted malaria and were treated here,” he said.
Yasir noted that the interiors of transport vehicles coming from malaria-infected locations are sprayed with a disinfectant to prevent accidental importing of the bug.
Certain countries that share regular traffic with the Maldives are showing worrisome resistance to malaria elimination.
According to an article published by Times of India today, Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM)’s latest report says that high rates in India, Indonesia and Myanmar have kept South East Asia’s malaria report rate stable while other regions see a declining report rate.
RBM’s report compares 5,200,000 probable and confirmed cases of malaria in 2000 in India against 5,000,000 in 2010. A WHO fact sheet, however, notes that 2 million fewer cases of death due to malaria were reported for the same time period.
Sri Lanka and Korea are in the pre-elimination phase.
Malaria elimination – the deliberate prevention of mosquito-borne malaria transmission resulting in zero incidence of infection in a defined geographical area – was first attempted at large scale during the Global Malaria Eradication Program from 1955 to 1972.
WHO certified 20 countries as malaria-free during this time, however in the 30 years that followed efforts to control the disease deteriorated and only four countries were certified.
During the 1970s, the Maldives successfully eliminated the malaria-carrying mosquito. It continues to combat the dengue-carrying mosquito, however, and several outbreaks have claimed 11 lives this year, making 2011 the worst year on record for dengue fatalities.
Among the factors that prevent the elimination of malaria, dengue and other viral diseases is the over-use of antibiotics. At the 64th meeting of the Regional Committee for South-East Asia in September, members suggested that overuse of antibiotics was making diseases harder to treat.
In 2010, WHO introduced a program combatting the reflexive practice of prescribing anti-malarials to any child with a fever. “Anti-malarial treatment without diagnostic confirmation means poor care for patients. It masks other deadly childhood illnesses, wastes precious medicines, hastens the inevitable emergence of drug-resistant parasites and makes it impossible to know the actual burden of malaria.”
In a previous interview with Minivan News, ADK Chief Operating Officer Ahmed Jamsheed called antibiotics “the most misused drug in the Maldives,” and warned that the trend could put Maldivians more at risk for dengue fever and chikungunya, as well as viral diseases.