By Sola Ogundipe
Leaders of countries must step up investments to end malaria as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten historic gains against one of the oldest and deadliest diseases, participants at a Virtual Forum on Malaria Elimination, co-hosted by the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and the World Health Organisation, agreed on Wednesday.
Held in the lead-up to this year’s World Malaria Day on 25th April, the event highlighted recent progress towards malaria elimination, with 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 ending malaria leads to healthier, more resilient communities, economies, and health systems that are critical for confronting new health challenges, called on countries worldwide to reaffirm their commitment to achieving zero malaria.
At the forum, WHO announced its new E-2025 initiative focusing on 25 countries within reach of achieving zero malaria cases by 2025.
Of the 87 countries with malaria, 46 reported fewer than 10,000 cases of the disease in 2019 compared to 26 countries in 2000.
By the end of 2020, 24 countries had reported interrupting malaria transmission for 3 years or more. Of these, 11 were certified malaria-free by WHO.
“Many of the countries we are recognising 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.
Though each country’s elimination journey is unique, common drivers of success have been seen across all regions.
In the view of the Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, Dr Pedro Alonso: “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 countries that reach zero malaria have strong primary health care systems that ensure access to malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment services, without financial hardship, for everyone living within their borders – regardless of nationality or legal status.
Robust data systems are also key to success, together with strong community engagement. Many countries that eliminate malaria have relied on dedicated networks of volunteer health workers to detect and treat the disease in remote and hard-to-reach areas.