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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 56  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 179-188

Malaria in Sri Lanka: Investigating causes of the recent elimination and making plans to prevent reintroduction

1 Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
2 Infectious Diseases Research Group, School of Health, Medical & Applied Sciences, Central Queensland University, Brisbane, Australia

Correspondence Address:
Andrew W Taylor-Robinson
Infectious Diseases Research Group, School of Health, Medical & Applied Sciences, Central Queensland University, 160 Ann Street, Brisbane, QLD 4000
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-9062.289390

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Sri Lanka is a country that has long suffered from epidemics of malaria. In this historical context, it is remarkable that in 2016 the Indian Ocean island nation was able to officially celebrate the elimination of this parasitic disease of major public health importance. The most devastating outbreak recorded in Sri Lanka was during 1934–35, when close to 80,000 human deaths were reported. Indoor residual spraying with the insecticides, DDT and malathion commenced in 1947 and was successful in causing a rapid decline in malaria incidence. However, poor vector control measures, resistance of mosquitoes to these insecticides and resistance of blood-stage Plasmodium parasites to the prevailing drugs used are considered the principal reasons for the occurrence of subsequent outbreaks. Despite this, Sri Lanka achieved the significant milestone of zero locally transmitted malaria cases in October 2012 and zero recorded deaths since 2007. Vector surveillance, parasitological examination, and clinical case management were collective effective activities that most likely led to elimination of malaria. Yet, there remains a high risk of reintroduction due to imported cases and an enduring vulnerability to vector transmission. In order to prevent re-establishment of malaria, continued financial support, sustained surveillance for vector species present in Sri Lanka and effective control of imported cases through rapid detection and early diagnosis are all required. In addition to these immediate practical priorities, further studies on vector biology and genetic variations that affect vectorial capacity would help to shed light on how to avoid reintroduction. This review affords an insight into the determinants of past malaria epidemics, strategies deployed to achieve and maintain the current status of elimination, lessons learnt from this success and plans to avoid resurgence of infection.

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