Malaria cases in North Korea have fallen for the fourth year in a row, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its World Malaria Report 2017 last week.
The number of “presumed and confirmed” malaria-afflicted North Koreans dropped to 5113 in 2016 by around 31%, compared to 7407 in 2015, the report said.
The number of malaria cases in the North stood at 15,673 and 11,212 in 2013 and 2014 respectively, according to the report.
1.3 million people are affected by malaria in what the WHO deems the South – East Asia region, which includes the DPRK, Myanmar, Thailand, Bhutan, India.
The number of presumed and confirmed malaria cases in the DPRK has fallen since 2013, after the number of infections peaked at 23,537 the previous year.
But the report draws a distinction between the number of presumed cases and patients confirmed to be ill through microscopic examination of the blood and rapid diagnostic tests (RDT).
The statistics showed that while “imported cases” of infection were rare between 2012 and 2016, 205 such cases took place in 2015.
The DPRK is aiming for malaria-free status by 2025, and no deaths from the disease have been reported since 2010.
The WHO, however, reported that there continues to be 1593 ongoing high-risk areas (known as foci) in the country and that around 9.5 million North Koreans live in “active foci.”
The number of the “population at risk of malaria cases and deaths,” had steadily increased, too, from 5.4 million in 2010 to 5.6 million in 2016.
Distribution of equipment helpful in mitigating infection also appears to be low.
Coverage with indoor residual spraying (IRS) remained at 12% in 2015 and 2016, falling rapidly from 27% in 2014, and a long lasting insecticide treated nets (LLIN) were reportedly not distributed at all in 2014 and 2016.
The Global Fund is the sole organization which grants malaria treatment support to the DPRK, providing around USD$3.6 million to anti-malaria projects in 2016 and USD$6.8 million and USD$3.5 million in 2014 and 2015.
Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax) malaria is the most prevalent form of the virus in the DPRK. It was eradicated in the early 1970s, but “resurged” when North Korea’s economy collapsed during the famine of the late 1990s, the WHO’s country office said.
The number of malaria cases fell from 296,540 in 2001 to 7436 in 2007, but the country suffered a “small outbreak” between 2008 and 2011.
South Korea’s Gyeonggi Provincial Government worked with Pyongyang during the outbreak to control the virus-carrying mosquitoes, which sometimes cross into the South.
Malaria cases in the South increased in 2016, with some attributing the rise to the pause in inter-Korean cooperation on malaria prevention.
May this year saw the Korean Sharing Movement (KSM), a Seoul-based NGO, attempt to visit the North with the purpose of curbing the spread of malaria in inter-Korean border regions.
North Korea, however, refused to allow the organization to visit the country.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Eric Lafforgue
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