The Director of the World Health Organization Dr Pedro Alonso says that this is a big victory and should set an example for many other countries where malaria still kills thousands of children each year.
This is not Sri Lanka’s first attempt at trying to eradicate malaria. It nearly succeeded getting rid of it half a century ago but at that time the country was in political turmoil and all the efforts fell apart. This time around the country succeeded because of the combined efforts of the government and the people.
Nearly 70 years ago, Sri l Lanka had about one million cases of malaria which resulted in significant morbidity and mortality. Infectious disease experts started an intensive public campaign to get rid of the mosquitoes using DDT. In addition, they used chloroquine to treat the infected patients. By the early 60s, the annual caseload had dropped to 17. Then the country was in political upheaval and the money dried out. Malaria again came back with a vengeance reaching nearly half a million cases by 1969. By then the mosquitoes had develop resistance to both Chloroquine and DDT.
With the country’s fabric disintegrating during the war and tribal conflicts, the country made another attempt to fight this malaria in the 1990s. By 2000, public health efforts were showing signs of success and cases of malaria again started to drop. The government encouraged the public to use nets, indoor spraying, getting rid of stagnant waters, rapid diagnostic kits and better medications that combined artemisinin. Dusk to dawn spraying in other areas quickly wiped out large population of mosquitoes.
In addition, the government also instituted a program where all blood samples drawn for whatever reason were regularly screened for the malaria parasite. This was followed by a nationwide electronic reporting system so that the patient could be treated and the area of residence could be sprayed.
Today Sri Lanka has set up mobile clinics in areas were migrants arrive and continues to screen for malaria. In addition, spot checks are done all over the country to ensure that the mosquitoes do not carry the malaria parasite.