Bangladesh witnessed a remarkable 62 percent decline in the prevalence of malaria in 2017-18, said a World Health Organization report.
There were a total of 5,133 presumed and confirmed malaria cases detected in 2017, which dropped to 1,919 the following year.
Praising Bangladesh for its efforts to eradicate the mosquito-borne disease, the report said, “Two countries in the region reported substantial decline in total reported cases between 2017 and 2018: by 62 percent in Bangladesh and by 21 percent in Thailand.”
In Bangladesh, only seven malaria patients died in 2018, which was 13 in 2017. The number was 37 in 2010, the report mentioned.
WHO, in its “World Malaria Report 2019” released on December 4, said women, children and economically vulnerable groups were hit the hardest. It summed up the progress made by countries and the current problems to overcome.
This year, Bangladesh witnessed the deadliest attack of dengue, another mosquito-borne disease that killed 112 people, although unofficial figures are much higher.
Dengue was first confined to Dhaka, but it later spread across the country. So far, more than one lakh dengue patients have been treated in hospitals across the country this year.
Experts said it was possible to tackle the disease if Bangladesh took long term, organised steps, similar to the ones it took on malaria.
“We have been working for a long time to eliminate malaria from the country. We had taken a number of short-term and long-term programmes and now we are reaping the benefits of those programmes,” Prof Dr Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told The Daily Star.
The authorities, however, could not predict the massiveness of dengue and it was not in the policy planning, he added.
“Now we are taking up long term projects and hopeful that we will be able to eliminate dengue from the country too.”
According to the WHO report, an estimated 1.61 billion people in the South-East Asia region are at risk of malaria.
It said in 2018, the region had almost 8 million estimated cases and about 11,600 estimated deaths -- reductions of 69 percent and 70 percent respectively from 2010 -- representing the largest decline among all regions.
Prof Mahmudur Rahman, former director of the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said the measures to check dengue and malaria are different, but if organised and long-term programmes were taken in the case of dengue, it could have been contained.
“Bangladesh has been working for a long time to eliminate malaria in an organised manner. External funds were also a factor,” he said.
The report said all countries are targeting to achieve a more than 40 percent reduction in Malaria cases by 2020, and all have strategic plans that aim for malaria elimination by 2030 at the latest.
Three countries accounted for 98 percent of the total reported cases in the region, the main contributor being India (58 percent), followed by Indonesia (30 percent) and Myanmar (10 percent), it said.
The major challenges remain decreased funding, treatment failures and vector resistance to pyrethroids, the insecticides used against the vectors, the WHO said.
It said the 2000-2015 period saw an exceptional reduction of malaria burden around the world, with many countries with a low burden of malaria having moved quickly towards elimination.
In recent years, however, global progress in reducing the rate of new malaria infections has slowed.
There were an estimated 228 million cases in 2018, compared to 231 million in 2017, while the global incidence rate of malaria, or the number of cases per 1,000 population, fell from 71 in 2010 to 57 in 2014 and remained at similar levels through 2018, the report said.
Global progress in reducing deaths has also slowed.
The major burden of malaria remains heavily concentrated in Africa. In 2018, the African Region accounted for 93 percent of all cases worldwide, according to WHO.
In view of recent trends, the report estimated that the global target of reducing case incidence and death rates of at least 40 percent by 2020, compared with a 2015 baseline, would likely be missed, the report added.