By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter
Malaria has almost been eliminated in Sri Lanka, say researchers, who hope that the disease will be completely eradicated from the island by 2014.
"Sri Lanka is showing the world how to eliminate malaria," said study author Richard Feachem (University of California San Francisco, USA) in a press statement.
"The country has made extraordinary progress, reducing malaria by 99.9% in the past decade. And all this achieved during a particularly nasty civil war. With continued commitment from the country's Government and supporters, we are confident that Sri Lanka will finish the fight and become a malaria-free country."
Only 124 cases of malaria were reported in the country in 2011, a 99.9% drop in numbers since 1999. Feachem and team say that evidence-driven anti-malaria policy and adaptation to changing circumstances, such as those encountered in conflict districts, have contributed to the dramatic decline.
As a note of caution, Sri Lanka has been in this position before, achieving a low of only 17 cases in 1963 compared with 92,000 cases in 1953. However, declines in the funding for anti-malaria programs and reduced spraying and surveillance in the following few years resulted in a substantial increase in the number of cases, with 1.5 million reported in the 1967 to 1968 period.
To prevent a similar situation occurring in the next few years and to achieve Sri Lanka's goal of elimination by 2014, the researchers emphasize the importance of early identification and treatment of infections, as well as good surveillance and response.
"Sustaining the gains of elimination efforts and preventing resurgence is even more challenging today, especially in tropical settings such as Sri Lanka," co-author Rabindra Abeyasinghe (World Health Organization, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea) told the press.
"In this era, sustaining the interest of partners and local decision makers, and ensuring continued funding, are becoming increasingly difficult. To avoid the tragic mistakes of the past, we must resolve to continue to devote the necessary resources and energy to the fight against malaria in Sri Lanka."
The findings are published in PLoS ONE.
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