Sabang, an island of 30,000 residents off the northern coast of Aceh, is a great example for the rest of the country. Through a combination of commitment, hard work, community spirit and science, the island has rid itself of malaria.
The last person to contract the deadly disease was 6-year-old Cut Adelia, and she was cured two weeks later. Not only does Cut represent Indonesia’s ongoing fight against malaria, but she is proof that almost anything is possible when a community pulls together.
Sabang is a living laboratory, according to Dr. Herdiana, Unicef’s child survival and development officer in Aceh. This is because the island has built a highly successful model for eliminating malaria.
In 2008, the island embarked on an aggressive grassroots campaign — the first of its kind — to eradicate the deadly disease. And for the most part, the program has been working. In addition to the Health Ministry, military and police, public information officials and port authorities were enlisted to help in the project.
Volunteers went door to door taking blood samples and making sure that residents took their medicine. Mosquito breeding sites were identified and eliminated. The World Health Organization worked with the Health Ministry to train technicians and nurses to identify and treat victims.
Considering that a decade ago Sabang had 2,527 cases of malaria in a single year, officials have called this campaign overwhelmingly successful. More importantly, the experiment in Sabang can be repeated across the country.
While there is no doubt that hard-working volunteers and residents deserve credit for the program’s success, the local government’s dedication was a huge contributor. It proves that when the local government works with the community, no hurdle is too high.