Vector-borne diseases are adding to the vicious cycle of poverty and have a significant impact of socio-economic status of communities, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

While countries in South-East Asia have made substantial economic progress, dengue and malaria fuel a vicious cycle of poverty and are still killing thousands of people. On World Health Day — April 7 — the WHO has impressed upon countries to prevent and control vector-borne diseases including dengue, kala-azar, lymphatic filariasis and malaria, among others.

Forty per cent of the global population at risk of malaria lives in the WHO South-East Asian region — home to a quarter of the world’s population. Malaria is endemic in 10 of the 11 countries of the region: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste. Maldives is the only country that has remained free of malaria since 1984. Sri Lanka has made remarkable progress in controlling malaria by bringing cases down from 203 in 2000 to zero since November 2012.

“These are deadly but preventable diseases. The solution lies in a united and sustained effort from all of us. Ministries of Health alone cannot control them. Committed engagement from all sectors, strong political will and active community participation is needed,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. “This region recently defeated polio, it is time for us to show the same resolve to defeat vector-borne diseases,” she said.

It accounts for 17 per cent of the estimated global burden of all infectious diseases. Dengue is now the world’s fastest growing vector-borne disease, with a 30-fold increase in disease incidence over the past 50 years. Outbreaks of dengue have now been reported from all countries of this region, except Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Lymphatic filariasis, another mosquito-borne disease, is linked to poverty and creates disfiguring and social stigma. The region has 60 million infected people while 875 million people are at risk of infection. To interrupt transmission, WHO recommends an annual mass drug administration of single dose of two medicines to all eligible people in endemic areas.

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