In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) formally certified the Maldives as the first malaria-free country in the WHO South-East Asia Region (SEARO). Six hundred years of deadly impact by “Maldive fevers” had been recorded. Nevertheless, this archipelago came comparatively late into the focus of the global malaria-eradication program of the post-WWII period. Small and insignificant in size of territory, population, and exploitable resources, the island nation was often overlooked and neglected in the geopolitics of South Asia and by scholarly attention.
In times of a collapsing colonial Indian Ocean world, the dawn of independence for India and Sri Lanka enhanced the geopolitical strategic location of the Maldives as a stopover between the Middle East and the Far East. Though the Maldives gained independence from the United Kingdom on July 26, 1965, a Royal Air Force base was in use in the southernmost atoll until 1975. The small RAF hospital on Gan Island provided early biomedical services in the archipelago during and after the war. In 1966, post-war approaches to modernization also reached the remote Maldive islands, and finally, a malaria eradication program was launched there—at a time when the WHO's overly ambitious Global Malaria Eradication Program was, in fact, already being withdrawn.
This chapter investigates in what ways and why the Maldive islands were remarkable in the global history of malaria eradication. For this purpose, the local late-colonial and early-postcolonial history of malaria eradication efforts in the Maldives will be contrasted with the different cases in Sri Lanka. Unlike partially successful, failed, and rebounding efforts in neighboring Sri Lanka and other parts of the malaria-ridden world, the eradication of vectors and parasites succeeded in the Maldives. The present analysis reveals how an adaptation of the general WHO eradication strategy to local circumstances, criticized as missing in other parts of the world, succeeded here.