Algeria and Argentina officially deemed malaria-free by WHO

Sarah Newey
Malaria still kills 400,000 people each year - Emily Lund/HARVARD TH CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH

Algeria and Argentina have become the latest countries to be recognised as malaria-free by the World Health Organization, after recording no new cases for more than three years. 

The two countries join 36 others around the world which have eliminated the mosquito-borne disease – which still kills some 435,000 people a year – in the last six decades. 

Millions of pounds has been invested in the fight against malaria, but the global battle against the disease is stalling – in 2017, the number of reported cases rose by 3 million to a total of 219 million globally, according to the WHO

“Algeria and Argentina have eliminated malaria thanks to the unwavering commitment and perseverance of the people and leaders of both countries,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. 

“Their success serves as a model for other countries working to end this disease once and for all,” he added. 

Malaria was a huge problem in Algeria in the 1960s, when there were some 80,000 cases a year. By 2000 this figure dropped to almost 28,000.

The country has now seen no new infections since 2013 and is the first nation in WHO Africa region to be declared malaria-free in more than 40 years – only  Mauritius, which achieved the goal in 1973, has also eliminated the disease in the region. 

“Algeria is where the malaria parasite was first discovered in humans almost a century and a half ago, and that was a significant milestone in responding to the disease,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti WHO regional director for Africa.

“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,” she said. 

Algeria's success has been due to a combination of free malaria diagnosis and treatment and a well-trained health workforce. Similar factors have helped Argentina eradicate the parasitic disease – the second country in South America to do so following Paraguay last year. 

“Argentina reported the last indigenous case in 2010 and has demonstrated the commitment, the capacity within its health, laboratory and surveillance systems, and the necessary financing to prevent the re-establishment of malaria within the country”, said Dr Carissa F. Etienne, director of the WHO Pan American Health Organization.

“I am sure that Argentina will serve as an inspiration and as an example for other countries of the Americas to achieve the elimination of malaria in the coming years,” she added. 

According to the 2018 World Malaria Report, China is also close to eradicating the disease and Rwanda, Ethiopia and Pakistan have reduced infection levels. 

The countries are a highlights in an otherwise gloomy global picture. The countries with the highest disease burden are all moving backwards, including Nigeria, DRC, Mozambique and Uganda.

“The news that Algeria and Argentina have been declared malaria free is a remarkable achievement for both countries,” said Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria.

“As well as saving precious lives and strengthening health systems, malaria-free status provides external economic benefits for these countries enabling them to free up resources to address other health and development priorities and improve worker productivity and school attendance.

“Other countries now have two more nations that serve as examples of how elimination can be achieved,” Dr Diallo added.

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