Bangladesh, Maldives, DPR Korea make ‘tremendous’ strides toward disease elimination
Visceral leishmaniasis – a parasitic disease spread by sandflies – has been wiped out in Bangladesh, along with rubella in the Democratic Republic of Korea (more commonly known as North Korea) said WHO in a statement.
Bangladesh has become the first country to be validated for the elimination of visceral leishmaniasis (also known as kala azar), which is a life-threatening neglected tropical disease that is common in the region.
The country achieved the elimination target of less than one case per 10,000 population at a “sub-district level” in 2017, and has sustained this progress despite disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maldives leprosy milestone
Maldives is the first country to verify an interruption of the transmission of leprosy, having achieved the milestone of no child case detection for more than five consecutive years.
In 2019, Maldives published a framework with clear milestones to reach leprosy elimination by 2030.
An independent assessment team from WHO highlighted high political will and community motivation - along with strong health systems and minimal evidence of stigma and discrimination towards persons affected by leprosy - as the key factors for the island nation’s success.
DPR Korea success
Based on evidence provided by the National Verification Committee of DPRK, the WHO’s Southeast Asia Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination concluded that the endemic rubella virus has been eliminated from the country.
North Korea introduced the measles-rubella vaccine into standard childhood immunization programmes in November 2019 after successfully carrying out a wide age range immunization campaign targeting nine month to 15-year-old children and 16 to 18-year-old women with measles and rubella vaccines.
Through this mass immunization activity, achieving more than 99.8 per cent coverage in a target population of around six million, the country rapidly built substantial population immunity for rubella.
“Neglected tropical diseases like lymphatic filariasis, visceral leishmaniasis and leprosy, along with the threat to children and young people posed by rubella, require continued national leadership, commitment and collaborative action by countries and health partners worldwide,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“I salute the great progress made, in line with WHO guidance, by Bangladesh and Maldives on protecting their populations from such NTDs, and from Bhutan, DPR Korea and Timor-Leste for their work to eliminate rubella as a public health threat. These achievements will positively impact the lives of the most vulnerable populations now and in the future.”
Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh congratulated Bangladesh, Maldives, and DPR Korea for these public health achievements at the ongoing seventy-sixth Regional Committee Session. She also commended Bangladesh for the elimination of lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem and Bhutan and Timor-Leste for eliminating rubella earlier this year.
“These are tremendous achievements, an outcome of a deeply held strategic vision and culture that together, over the past decade and beyond, we have created. A vision and culture that strives to advance the health and well-being not of some, or even many people, but of all people, everywhere,” she said.