The number of malaria cases dropped by about 54 percent last year, with just one person dying from the mosquito-borne disease compared to 10 the previous year, according to the government’s latest annual malaria report.
There was a significant drop from 51,262 cases in 2015 to 23,6327 reported last year, according to data released by on Thursday by the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM).
One malaria-prone province, Preah Vihear, has seen reported cases of the disease drop to zero, a provincial health official said.
In a press release, the Ministry of Health attributed the success to last January’s roll out of the Cambodia Malaria Elimination Action Framework (2016-2020), which is part of the government’s larger goal of eliminating all malaria cases carried by the parasite’s two main species by 2025. The target for wiping out the most dangerous malaria-carrying parasite is 2020.
Malaria experts agreed the efforts had apparently started to pay off, but said other factors likely played a part.
Luciano Tuseo, who heads the World Health Organization’s (WHO) malaria program in Cambodia, said a major reason for the dramatic decrease could be the introduction last year of a new drug, replacing another one that the disease had started to build up a resistant to.
Since February 2016, Artesunate-Mefloquine (ASMQ) medication has been the first line defence in the fight against malaria.
“This can be the reason for cases decreases,” wMr. Tuseo said in an email on Thursday, adding that an “epidemic situation” the previous year contributed to higher numbers.
Malaria is transmitted through the bite of an Anopheles mosquito. Symptoms, which include fever, chills, sweats and nausea and vomiting, can range from mild to severe. If left untreated, it can cause organ failure and death.
Siv Sovannaroth, technical bureau chief for the national malaria center, said a national mosquito net program also deserved some credit for last year’s plunge.
He said millions of insecticide-dipped nets are given to people living in vulnerable areas every three years, but the nets may have become less efficient by 2015, when they were set to be replaced.
“In 2016, we gave out 2.8 million nets to every household in target villages, reaching 3.6 million people,” he said, noting that the current batch of nets would need replacing in 2018.
Mr. Sovannaroth also attributed last year’s extended drought to the disease’s smaller reach. “When there is more rain there is more malaria—with droughts, there could be a drop in malaria.”
Elimination was on track to be achieved by its target date, he added.
“By 2018, we will eliminate malaria in seven provinces. By 2019, we will eliminate it in up to 15 provinces, and by 2020 we will completely eliminate it in all 24 provinces,” he said.
Yves Bourny, country director for the Malaria Consortium, a nonprofit focusing on the prevention, control and treatment of the disease, said the goal was achievable—to an extent.
“Elimination of malaria is possible by 2020 or 2025, but in some provinces only,” he said in an email on Thursday. “It may take longer in other remote provinces where people have difficulties to access health services.”
He said a decrease in cases had been reported not just across Cambodia, but Southeast Asia as a whole.
Chhay Saomony, deputy director of the health department in Preah Vihear province, an area that had been plagued by malaria for years, said elimination program efforts combined with vigilant doctors had brought reported cases in his province down to zero.
“People have an understanding of the past,” he said.
There were 891 death caused by malaria in 1999, a figure that dropped to 608 the next year and has steadily declined since, according to Health Ministry statistics.