Aug 30 (News-Medical) Despite nearly three decades of conflict, Sri Lanka has succeeded in reducing malaria cases by 99.9 percent since 1999 and is on track to eliminate the disease entirely by 2014. Typically, countries with conflict experience a weakening of their malaria control programs and an increased risk of outbreaks and epidemics, the researchers said.
According to a paper published today in the online, open-access journal PLOS ONE, researchers from Sri Lanka's Anti-Malaria Campaign and the UCSF Global Health Group examined national malaria data and interviewed staff of the country's malaria program to determine the factors behind Sri Lanka's success in controlling malaria, despite a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009.
Typically, countries with conflict experience a weakening of their malaria control programs and an increased risk of outbreaks and epidemics, the researchers said.
Chief among its keys to success was the program's ability to be flexible and adapt to changing conditions, the study found. For instance, to protect hard-to-reach, displaced populations, public health workers deployed mobile clinics equipped with malaria diagnostics and antimalarial drugs, whenever it was safe to do so. Likewise, when it was impossible to routinely spray insecticides in homes in conflict zones, the malaria program distributed long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, engaging non-governmental partner organizations familiar with the areas to help with distribution.
The program was able to sustain key prevention and surveillance activities in conflict areas through support from partner organizations and support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Otherwise, researchers found that the keys to Sri Lanka's success were the same as those deployed in non-conflict areas: rigorously and consistently providing interventions to prevent malaria among high-risk populations; proper and prompt diagnosis and treatment of all confirmed malaria cases; and maintenance of an effective surveillance system to quickly detect and respond to spikes in cases. Still, challenges remain.
"Sustaining the gains of elimination efforts and preventing resurgence is even more challenging today, especially in tropical settings such as Sri Lanka," said Rabindra Abeyasinghe, MD, the paper's first author, who led the research at the Sri Lankan Anti-Malaria Campaign. "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."
Sri Lanka has an extensive history of battling malaria, and nearly eliminated it once before. In 1963, during the era of global eradication efforts, the country achieved a low of only 17 cases, down from 92,000 cases in 1953. With funding declines and reduced spraying and surveillance, the country saw a massive resurgence to 1.5 million cases in 1967-1968.