By Matt Anderson, Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands
Take a look at a map of Solomon Islands and you will get a glimpse of how hard it is to provide health services to more than half a million people scattered across 100 of the 990 inhabited islands that make up the country.
From the air, the challenge looks even more confronting as the archipelago of islands stretch as far as the eye can see. Some of the islands are big, others small, with banana boats the only way to move around.
Earlier this month, I flew over many of these islands on my way to Isabel Province. I was joined by Solomon Islands Deputy Prime Minister, Manasseh Maelanga and Health Minister Charles Sigoto to celebrate the community’s efforts to eliminate malaria in the
The province leads the country’s efforts to control malaria, with the malaria
incidence rate for Solomon Islands dropping to 46 cases per 1000 people (down from 199 cases per 1000 in 2003).
Through the Pacific Malaria Initiative, Australia is working with partners from the World Health Organization, the Global Fund and Japan International Cooperation
Agency to help Solomon Islands implement their own national malaria plan.
This partnership approach is a feature of the Solomon Islands – Australia Partnership for Development where AusAID is working with the Ministry of Health, donors and communities to improve the quality of Solomon Islands health system.
Remarkably, Isabel Province is on track to eliminate malaria within the next two years. In 2003, the province reported over 1,400 cases of malaria. Last year, there were just 26 cases or 0.02 cases per 1000 people.
Treated mosquito nets, spraying households and improving diagnostic capacity in local health facilities made a critical difference, but it was the community efforts that had direct impact.
Local ownership and leadership has been the key to this success. Through a ‘home grown’ plan with the council of chiefs, provincial government and church of Melanesia, community-led action has seen malaria almost totally eliminated from the province.
The community embraced simple awareness raising activities in schools and local drama group performances in villages to educate about malaria risks, prevention and treatment, along with village clean ups to remove mosquito breeding grounds. The Mother’s Union mobilised to distribute treated nets and ensure people were tested for malaria, and treatment regimes followed.
This success speaks of the value of a health promotion partnership between national and provincial governments working with the community.
The Isabel results tell their own story—communities are healthier and stronger; children can attend school; adults return to work and participate in economic activity; and the young and elderly remain in good health, free from the burden of malaria-related illnesses. Healthy communities are happy communities. And they free up precious resources to tackle other health priorities.
Solomon Islands can be very proud of the progress achieved to eliminate malaria across the country. While there is still much work to be done, Isabel Province has shown what can be achieved with the right mix of commitment and partnership – and the difference that community support can make.
We hope the success in tackling malaria will be repeated in other heath priorities as well; for the good health and well-being of all Solomon Islanders.
For more information about Australia’s work to help fight malaria in Solomon Islands, see the following video.
About the author: Matt Anderson
Matt Anderson is Australia’s High Commissioner to Solomon Islands. He was most recently Australian High Commissioner to Samoa (2007-11) and has also worked overseas in South Africa and Papua New Guinea. In 2001 he was Chief Negotiator of the regional Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville.