Sri Lanka’s road to elimination was tough and demanded well-calibrated, responsive policies. After malaria cases soared in the 1970s and 1980s, 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 mobilised popular support for the campaign.
The adaptation and flexibility of strategies and support from key partners such as WHO and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria fast-tracked success. By 2006, the country recorded less than 1,000 cases of malaria per year, and since October 2012 indigenous cases were down to zero. For the past three and a half years no locally transmitted cases have been recorded.
To maintain elimination and ensure that the parasite is not reintroduced to the country, the anti-malaria campaign is working closely with local authorities and international partners to maintain surveillance and response capacity and to screen high-risk populations entering the country.
Sri Lanka is the second country in the WHO Southeast Asia region to eliminate malaria after the Maldives. The announcement of Sri Lanka’s victory over malaria was made at the WHO Southeast Asia region’s annual Regional Committee meeting in the presence of health ministers and senior health officials from all 11 member states.
The Regional Director said WHO would continue to support the efforts of Sri Lanka’s health authorities relating to malaria as well as the country’s wider public health mission. This outstanding achievement should be a springboard to further public health gains in the country and the Southeast Asia region as a whole.