Malaria 'import' from Assam could mar Bhutan's target

The meeting on cross border elimination of Malaria in India-Bhutan, in Guwahati on Monday and Tuesday. (Photo credit: Assam health department)

If Bhutan fails to achieve its target to eliminate Malaria by 2020, blame the threat of "import" of the disease by its residents from neighbouring Assam. 

Rinzin Namgay, who led a 10-member Bhutanese delegation in a meeting on cross border collaboration to eliminate Malaria here, said the neighbouring country fear that it could miss its target to end Malaria as many of its residents, who frequents Assam and other parts of India carry the disease. "We may not be able to achieve the target to eliminate Malaria by 2020 unless the disease is eliminated on the Indian side of the border," a statement quoting Namgay said. 

Assam health department stated after the two-day long meeting on Monday and Tuesday, which was supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

It said Bhutan reported only 11 locally acquired Malaria cases in 2017, which went down to six last year. "As of September 2019, there were six locally acquired cases and 12 cases acquired from India," it said.

According to Assam health officials, Malaria was still serious in the districts in Assam (Baksa, Chirang, Udalguri, Kokrajhar) and Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Bhutan and many Bhutanese residents could carry the disease. 

The meeting was organised as a follow up to 2017 Ministerial Declaration on Accelerating and Sustaining Malaria Elimination in South-East Asia as well as the Regional Action Plan 2017-2030 towards achieving Malaria Free South-East Asia Region. It was also in line with the Framework for Malaria Elimination in India 2016–2030 and the National Malaria Elimination Strategic Plan in Bhutan.  

Rekha Shukla, joint secretary in the union ministry of health and family welfare admitted in the meeting that although India made a massive improvement 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 stressed on real-time sharing of information, joint planning, innovative approaches to delivering the interventions and synchronization of implementation of interventions across the Indo-Bhutan border.

At the end of the two-day meeting, both sides developed district-specific action plans for the nine districts of India and 10 in Bhutan along the border. They also agreed on key activities to be jointly undertaken to eliminate malaria along the Indo-Bhutan border.

International malaria experts from WHO, representatives from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and West Bengal, officials from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India, Officials from Bhutan and the bordering districts of Bhutan and India attended the meeting.

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