The Nepalese government has launched an ambitious plan to curb the spread of malaria in high-risk parts of the country, where some 3,000 people were infected last year.
“This programme aims to end malaria in Nepal and bring about significant change in how we battle the disease,” Nepal’s Minister of Health and Population, Rajendra Mahato, told IRIN.
Nepal has run anti-malaria campaigns in the past, but Mahato said the latest effort was different, given the scope of the initiative and its goal of eradication. “We are not just monitoring and reacting, we are acting before any outbreak happens,” he said.
The programme began on 1 May, and is the first nationwide push to end malaria. The central government aims to deliver anti-malarial drugs free of charge to some 500,000 people in 31 districts, including 13 southern Terai districts, the area most prone to the disease.
The health ministry will distribute the drugs at their local offices, and through their representatives in rural areas.
Nepal is still considered one of the most malaria-prone countries in Asia, even though the ministry is using a 1994 study, which showed that 20 million of the country’s 30 million people were at risk.
More than half of the country finds obtaining medical attention for malaria difficult due to poor infrastructure, and at times the government also has done little to prevent the disease from spreading. Observers hope the new campaign is an indication that the country’s mindset and approach to health could be changing.
“We are working hard at reaching our goal of reducing the number of people that face malaria annually, by half this year,” said Prijita Kunat a ministry official working on the programme, who added that the government will also focus on developing water and sanitation systems in the impoverished areas of Terai.
One of the main supporters of the new programme is G D Thakur, the director of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division (EDCD) of the Department of Health Services, who said that although the mosquito-borne disease has not caused deaths in the country since 2009, there is no room for complacency.
“The new programme is a great chance for Nepal to reduce malaria… and if we can be proactive on this front, Nepal can be a malaria-free country in just a few years,” Thakur said.
Eight people died of malaria in 2008, and six in 2009, but no deaths were reported among the few thousand cases in the past two years, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. There were about 216 million malaria cases globally in 2010, with an estimated 655,000 deaths.
“It is exciting to see the government and the health sector taking this issue seriously after many years of neglect, and we are watching to see how the implementation takes off,” Thakur said. “If successful, Nepalis could be facing a future that has them worrying about other things.”