Health ministry sets 2020 as new target year to achieve zero incidence of indigenous malaria transmission

After failing to achieve zero indigenous malaria cases last year, efforts continue to eradicate the fever.

If it weren’t for the six indigenous malaria (locally transmitted) cases detected last year, Bhutan would have achieved malaria-free status by 2021.

A new target has been set.

The country had initially targeted to achieve zero indigenous malaria cases by 2018.

For a country to achieve a malaria-free status, it has to maintain zero indigenous malaria cases for three consecutive years, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Bhutan aims for malaria elimination (zero incidence of indigenous malaria) by next year. If Bhutan maintains this status for three consecutive years, the country would achieve the malaria-free status by 2023.

In an effort to achieve the target, a two-day meeting on cross-border malaria elimination is underway in Gelephu.

Chief Programme officer with the Communicable Disease Division of the Department of Public Health, Rixin Jamtsho, said that cross border malaria posed a considerable threat for malaria elimination, prevention and control of re-emergence of malaria.

He said that Bhutan shared a long and porous border with Assam and West Bengal, both malaria endemic states. “Thus, cross border issues need to be addressed strategically and promptly both at the local and national level.”

He said that despite the political will for malaria elimination in both countries with major achievements in reducing malaria incidences, the ambition remained fragile given the high cross borders transmissions.

Of the 54 malaria cases detected in 2018, majority of the cases (34) were imported (infected outside Bhutan).

Indigenous malaria cases in the country have declined over the years. The number dropped from 31 in 2015 to 15 in 2016 and further reduced to six in 2018 from 11 in 2017.

Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said that at a working and health facility levels, Bhutan and the neighbouring Indian states of Assam, West Bengal and Arunachal shared a good collaboration in terms of addressing vector-borne diseases.

However, he said that because of the international border, the need for the permission from central government was critical. “The concurrence of both the governments is crucial in order to synchronize the vector control and patient management activities, including distribution of bed-nets and others activities.”

Once this understanding is in place, it becomes easy for people to function at the ground level, he added. “All that the central government needs to do is issue an order to collaborate with neighbouring states across the border to work together and synchronize the activities.”

Dr Ugen Dophu said that it was possible for Bhutan to achieve malaria-free status as targeted. “I think we are doing well. Transmission from within the country is only a few.”

However, he said that the target would be achieved only with the help of effective cross-border collaboration. “Most of the reported cases are imported from outside, which is why addressing cross-border transmission is important.”

He added that an effective cross-border collaboration would not only help address malaria elimination but also other vector-borne disease like dengue including tuberculosis and HIV.

Younten Tshedup  | Gelephu