Colombo: For a country that receives four times as much rainfall than India, eliminating malaria is no mean feat. But that is exactly what Sri Lanka has achieved, the World Health Organisation or WHO declared on Monday.
Calling it a "remarkable public health achievement", WHO certified the tropical island nation of having eliminated malaria - a life-threatening disease caused by mosquito bites.
This comes even as New Delhi grapples with a huge upsurge of mosquito-borne infections like chikungunya and dengue.
Most of India is at risk from malaria and every year about a thousand people die due to the disease. According to a 2016 estimate by the Ministry of Health, India can eliminate malaria by 2030.
Sixty years ago, Sri Lanka was considered the worst-affected nation by malaria. But by tackling both the mosquito and the malarial parasite, the country has not seen a single locally transmitted case of malaria in the last 3.5 years.
"Sri Lanka's achievement is truly remarkable. In the mid-20th century it was among the most malaria-affected countries, but now it is malaria-free. This is testament to the courage and vision of its leaders, and signifies the great leaps that can be made when targeted action is taken. It also demonstrates the importance of grass-roots community engagement and a whole-of-society approach when it comes to making dramatic public health gains," said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for the South East Regional office of WHO.
Sri Lanka used unorthodox methods like mobile malaria clinics and effective education of communities to rid the disease.
According to the WHO, Sri Lanka's road to elimination was tough, and demanded well-calibrated, responsive policies. After malaria cases soared in the 1970s and 80s, in the 1990s the country's anti-malaria campaign adjusted its strategy to intensively target the parasite in addition to targeting the mosquito.
The change in strategy was unorthodox, but highly effective. Mobile malaria clinics in high transmission areas meant that prompt and effective treatment could reduce the parasite reservoir and the possibility of further transmission. Effective surveillance, community engagement and health education, meanwhile, enhanced the ability of authorities to respond, and mobilized popular support for the campaign.
Other countries that have reached this milestone OF eliminating malaria are United Arab Emirates (2007), Morocco (2010), Turkmenistan (2010), Armenia (2011) and Maldives (2015).
Globally, about 3.2 billion people are at risk by malaria which half the world's population.
As per 2015 statistics by WHO there were 214 million cases of malaria in 2015 and over 4 lakh deaths worldwide.