National leaders must increase investments to stop malaria as COVID-19 continues to threaten the historic value of one of the oldest and deadliest diseases.
An event co-hosted by RBM Partnership to End Malaria and WHO showcased recent advances in malaria eradication in countries such as Algeria, Paraguay and Uzbekistan, as well as El Salvador, the first Central American country, all being certified malaria-free since 2015.
Over the past two decades, the number of countries that have reduced the burden of malaria to under 1,000 annual cases has more than doubled from 14 to 34, putting the world on track to end malaria within a generation.
“Since the turn of the century, countries around the world have proven again and again that malaria elimination is a viable and worthwhile goal,” said Dr. Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria.
Diallo, who said eliminating malaria leads to healthier and more resilient communities, economies, and health systems, essential for meeting new health challenges, called on countries around the world to commit to achieving zero to confirm malaria.
At the forum, WHO announced its new E-2025 initiative, which will focus on 25 countries within reach of zero malaria cases by 2025.
For about 87 countries affected by malaria, 46 reported less than 10,000 cases of the disease in 2019, up from 26 countries in 2000. By the end of 2020, 24 countries reported that malaria transmission had been interrupted for three years or more. Of these, 11 have been certified malaria-free by the WHO.
“Many of the countries we are recognizing today carried, at one time, a very high burden of malaria. Their successes were hard-won and came only after decades of concerted action.
Together, they have shown the world that malaria elimination is a viable goal for all countries,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
Although the strategy for eliminating malaria in each country is unique, similar success factors have been across all regions.
The Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, Dr Pedro Alonso explained that success is driven, first and foremost, by political commitment within a malaria-endemic country to end the disease.
This commitment is translated into domestic funding that is often sustained over many decades, even after a country is malaria-free,” he added.
Most malaria-free countries have strong primary health care systems that provide access to malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment services, without financial hardship, for all those living within their borders, regardless of their nationality or legal status.
A solid data system is also the key to success, along with strong community involvement. Many countries that eradicate malaria rely on a network of volunteer health workers dedicated to identifying and treating diseases in remote and hard-to-reach areas.