As Bhutan aims to eliminate malaria in or before 2020 

Health: Despite significant progress in controlling malaria over the years with Bhutan about to eliminate it, even a single case of malaria could flare into an epidemic.

Therefore, World Health Organisation (WHO) resident representative Dr Ornella Lincetto stressed that strong surveillance, response system and collaboration with relevant sectors in the country must be further improved and sustained.

“We also need to further strengthen cross-border collaboration with India, an initiative the regional director of SEARO is promoting with bordering countries, as a strategy to eliminate malaria from the region,” she said.

Bhutan aims to eliminate malaria on or before 2020.

Records show that malaria cases have declined from 39,852 in 1994 to 104 in 2015. Of the total 104 cases last year, 70 were mainly acquired or imported from outside the country and 34 locally acquired. The 34 indigenous cases were reported from Sarpang and Samdrupjongkhar.

Similarly, no deaths from malaria were recorded in the country since 2013.

WHO attributed the decline in malaria cases over the years to dedicated and deliberate actions at all levels of the health system besides community participation and collaboration.

During the World Malaria Day in April, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that malaria used to be a major health problem in the country and that the malaria control programme is the oldest public health programme in Bhutan. “However, we should not be complacent. We should continue to implement key interventions to get rid of this disease and prevent its re-establishment in our land,” Lyonpo had said. “We need to maintain the necessary expertise and readiness to fight malaria otherwise it’ll come back with a vengeance.”

According to WHO, it is necessary to maintain core competencies to eliminate malaria as the country remains receptive and vulnerable to malaria. The porous border with India where malaria is still a significant health problem is still a risk for Bhutan.

“Moreover, there are many Indians working in development projects in Bhutan and some of those projects are located in areas where the environment remains favourable for malaria transmission,” a press release from WHO states.

Therefore, to equip health workers with knowledge and skills to enable them to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate the malaria elimination programme and prevention of re-establishment of malaria transmission, a five-day workshop is underway in Paro.

Organised by the WHO country office with support from Global Malaria Programme WHO HQ, Geneva and WHO regional office in collaboration with the health ministry, health workers from dzongkhags where malaria transmission still exist are attending the training workshop.

WHO officials said that the workshop is part of WHO’s plan to support countries to create a critical mass of key health staff who will substantially contribute in eliminating malaria in at least 35 countries by 2030 and prevent re-establishment of transmission in malaria-free countries.

Kinga Dema