Wednesday 19 Sep 2018 | 14:12 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 19 Sep 2018 | 14:12 | SYDNEY

The Melanesian malaria belt

29 April 2010 12:10

Last week I wrote about the possibility of a world without malaria. Today, a tangible message from the Pacific confirms that this goal is far from elusive.

According to representatives from Vanuatu's National Malaria Control Program and the World Health Organisation, both Vanuatu and Solomon Islands more than halved the number of malaria cases between 2003 and 2008.

This positive message in the fight against malaria is even more important considering that both countries – together with Papua New Guinea – form the so called 'Melanesian malaria belt' where we find the highest number of malaria cases per capita in the world.

Vanuatu's Malaria Program and the WHO believe that the key to this impressive reduction is two-fold.

First, an integrated and coordinated approach between government and institutions like the WHO, UNICEF, AusAID and Rotary International. Second, Global Fund finance for a multi-country response to malaria in the Pacific has proven essential for these institutions to take up the task of scaling up malaria coverage in Vanuatu and the Solomons.

It must also be noted that in both countries the Minister for Health proved to be the driving force behind this well organised public health response.

If this rate of reduction continues, the question arises of when this region will be malaria-free, and when the term 'Melanesian malaria belt' will lose its meaning. So, how realistic is eradicating malaria on these two Pacific Islands?

The WHO believes that eradication is quite realistic, but adds that 'the challenge would be to keep malaria away'. In concrete terms this would mean tackling the disease in Papua New Guinea as well. Furthermore, malaria comes in four different types, necessitating the use of different tools and approaches to eradicate every form.