GUWAHATI: A meeting on the Cross Border Collaboration for Malaria Elimination along the Indo-Bhutan Border was held in Guwahati on November 4 and November 5. The meeting was attended by international malaria experts from WHO, representatives from the States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and West Bengal, Officials from Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, Officials from Bhutan, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the bordering districts of Bhutan and India. This meeting is in accord with the 2017 Ministerial Declaration on Accelerating and Sustaining Malaria Elimination in South-East Asia as well as the Regional Action Plan 2017-2030 Towards 0-Malaria-Free South-East Asia Region. It is in line with the Framework for Malaria Elimination in India 2016 – 2030 and National Malaria Elimination Strategic Plan in Bhutan, stated a press release.
Dr. Neeraj Dhingra, Director, NVBDCP, MoHFW, GOI welcomed the participants from Bhutan, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and West Bengal and WHO, and provided an overview of the progress towards malaria elimination in India by 2030. Malaria cases in the country have reduced from over 1 million in 2016 to around 419,000 in 2018. The country aims to achieve zero indigenous cases by 2027, sustain it thereafter and secure malaria-free certification by WHO in 2030. He expressed appreciation to the WHO for supporting and coordinating the meeting between India and Bhutan.
Rinzin Namgay, the head of the delegation from Bhutan, stated that his country aims to eliminate malaria by 2020 and has only 11 locally acquired cases in 2017 and 6 in 2018. As of September 2019, there were 6 locally acquired cases and 12 cases acquired from India. Due to the importation of malaria from other parts of India and the continuing transmission in the Indo-Bhutan border, the country may not be able to achieve malaria elimination by 2020 unless the malaria cases on the Indian side of the border are also eliminated.
In her address, Rekha Shukla, Joint Secretary, MoHFW, India, acknowledged that while India made massive improvements in reducing malaria burden, more needs to be done to accelerate and sustain the progress and contribute towards eliminating malaria in Bhutan as well as other bordering countries. She emphasized the importance of strong collaboration and people to people interaction at the local level across the international borders and with other sectors. These include, among others, real-time sharing of information, joint planning, and innovative approaches to delivering the interventions and synchronization of implementation of interventions across the Indo-Bhutan border.
The meeting, which was supported by the World Health Organization, had 28 participants from India, 10 from Bhutan and 4 technical staff from WHO India, SEARO and Global Malaria Program, Geneva. Malaria program officials from national, State and from districts on both sides of the Indo-Bhutan border provided updates on malaria situations in their respective areas and the key activities being carried out. At the end of the two-day meeting, both sides developed district-specific action plans for the 9 districts of India and 10 districts of Bhutan along with border. They also agreed on key activities to be jointly undertaken to eliminate malaria along the Indo-Bhutan border.