Imported cases of malaria overtaking indigenous cases in Sri Lanka ------------------------------------------------------------------ Health officials have warned that although malaria is on the brink of being eliminated in Sri Lanka, there could be a re-emergence of the disease due to a rise in the number of "imported" cases.
"We had 70 "imported" cases of malaria as against 23 indigenous cases last year . The imported cases included a large number of refugees who arrived from Benin in West Africa; they were tested at the airport and 50 were found to be positive. The rest were from India and Pakistan," Anti Malaria Campaign (AMC) sources told the Sunday Observer.
They said due to sustained awareness programs by the AMC to eradicate the disease, the parasite reservoir in the island was now absent. "The risk is that the malaria vector is still abundant during long drought periods, especially in the North Central Province in areas such as Hambantota, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Mullaitivu, and Mannar. If someone brings the parasite with them after visiting a malaria-prone countries such as African countries and India, there is a chance for another outbreak of the disease," they warned.
They said anyone including those in peace keeping missions to such countries should take proper precautions as they could be exposed to the parasite. "We now have a good mechanism to prevent the disease re-entering the country.
"We deploy our officers at airports and other points of entry to the country to take blood samples of anyone entering the country from malaria-prone areas, once these travellers inform us of their arrival prior to their return. The results of the blood tests are given to them within 15 minutes, before they leave the airport. If they test positive, we start them on treatment immediately. Health directors of the Forces support us in this campaign, which has already shown encouraging results, with 14 cases being detected at airports so far this year ," they said.
AMC sources said travellers to malaria-prone countries had been requested to take prophylactic drugs to prevent catching the disease prior to their departure, and also to take the tablets with them when they depart. "The drugs are free and available at our head office at Narahenpita. Different drugs are given for different countries. Also, when they return, if they develop high fever with shivering fits and severe headaches, they should immediately inform the nearest MOH [Ministry of Health] doctor to test them for malaria," they said.