By Ochuko Keyamo-Onyige, Country Manager, Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA), Nigeria
On 22nd May the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Algeria and Argentina malaria-free, bringing to 38 the number of countries now officially rid of the disease. The certification is granted when a country proves that it has interrupted malaria transmission for at least three consecutive years within its borders. In the past four years, Maldives (2015), Sri Lanka (2016), and Uzbekistan and Paraguay (2018) have also been declared malaria-free.
Algeria will be seen as a unique success because it is in Africa where the burden of malaria is heaviest. Africa suffered 90% of an estimated 219 million cases worldwide in 2017. 80% of the global malaria burden is carried by merely 15 countries, of which 14 are within sub-Saharan Africa (see Figure 1)
Figure 1: Proportion of estimated malaria deaths attributable to the 15 countries carrying nearly 80% of malaria deaths globally in 2017
Although Algeria was the country where the Malaria parasite was first discovered in humans about a century and a half ago, the country has shown tenacity in tackling the disease. She experienced her toughest period of battling the disease in the 1960s where up to 80,000 cases were being reported each year.
Measures Used by Algeria to Defeat Malaria
Algeria made concerted efforts to eliminate malaria. Some of the measures they used in defeating malaria as stated by WHO are:
- Provision of free malaria diagnosis and treatment
- Investment in Universal Health Care
- Well-trained health care personnel
- Quick response to disease outbreaks
- Improved surveillance
Similar factors helped Argentina eradicate the parasitic disease. The efficiency of these measures was due to the country’s consistent and relentless commitment to fight this deadly disease.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said, “Now Algeria has shown the rest of Africa that malaria can be beaten through country leadership, bold action, sound investment, and science. The rest of the continent can learn from this experience.”
Although Algeria and Argentina have stopped the threat of malaria, they’re not in the clear forever. Other countries that have been declared malaria-free have seen outbreaks again. Venezuela was the first country in the world to be declared malaria-free back in 1961. Today, the country is facing a malaria crisis that is spiraling out of control. The country’s decline shows the urgent need to maintain strong health care systems around the world in order to eradicate malaria once and for all.
What the countries that have been declared malaria-free have demonstrated is a deliberate attempt to embrace innovative, low-cost yet effective methods that have been guided by structured approaches and proactive political leadership. These are vital lessons for the rest of the world.