ISLAMABAD: While World Malaria Day was observed under a global theme, “Accelerating the fight against malaria for a more equitable world” on Thursday, Pakistan has committed to controlling the mosquito-borne disease, hoping to “become malaria-free by 2035”.

Once, Pakistan was eying the status of a malaria-free country but now it seems the goal may not be achieved in the near future. Health Ministry’s Special Secretary Syed Waqarul Hassan said that the lingering public health challenge posed by malaria was exacerbated by the 2022 floods.

He was speaking to participants of an event organised by the health ministry in collaboration with the Common Management Unit (CMU) for AIDS, TB and Malaria, in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO). Mr Hassan called for a united effort from all stakeholders, including policymakers, civil society organisations, UN agencies, NGOs, communities, and healthcare providers.

CMU National Coordinator Dr Razia Kaniz Fatima said that the CMU, in collaboration with the provincial programmes and with the support of the Global Fund (GF) and partnership with the Indus Hospital and Health Network (IHHN), was providing free of cost malaria prevention, diagnostic and treatment interventions through more than 5,500 public and private healthcare facilities in remote areas of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh.

Official says country to get rid of mosquito-borne disease by 2035

“With the GF support, about 11.1 million suspects were tested for malaria, and 2.6 million confirmed cases were successfully treated during last year. Further, 6.1 million insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) were distributed in 20 high-burden districts,” she said.

Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO representative to Pakistan, reaffirmed WHO’s commitment to combat malaria and support initiatives for a malaria-free Pakistan. He lauded the accelerated response of national and provincial programmes to combating malaria outbreaks during floods while presenting an animated video providing a historical overview of the malaria situation.

Dr Shahzad Ali Khan, vice chancellor of the Health Services Academy, emphasised the profound impact of malaria on individuals, families, and communities, urging heightened political and social commitment to alleviate its burden. He commended the efforts of healthcare workers, researchers, policymakers and communities worldwide in the fight against malaria.

It is worth mentioning that in 2022, because of floods, Pakistan reported 3.4 million cases of malaria. An official of the health ministry, requesting anonymity, said Pakistan had contacted the WHO in 2020 to start the process of declaring Punjab malaria-free but the move could not be implemented due to Covid-19 and a change of management in the malaria control wing.

The floods during the last three years, however, have made it difficult to turn this dream into reality, he added.

“…the health ministry claims that as per the national malaria strategy, Punjab, AJK, GB and ICT [Islamabad Capital Territory] will be declared malaria-free by 2025, while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan will reduce their malaria incidence(s) up to 70pc till 2030, and Pakistan will be malaria-free till 2035,” he said.

According to details, at least 42 countries or territories have reached the malaria-free milestone. Last year WHO certified Azerbaijan and Tajikistan for achieving elimination of malaria in their territories. The certification followed a sustained, century-long effort to stamp out the disease by the two countries.

Certification of malaria elimination is the official recognition by WHO of a country’s malaria-free status. The certification is granted when a country has shown – with rigorous, credible evidence – that the chain of indigenous malaria transmission by anopheles mosquitoes has been interrupted nationwide for at least the past three consecutive years. A country must also demonstrate the capacity to prevent the re-establishment of transmission.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2024

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