By Opija Raduk

Algeria and Argentina have been officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as malaria-free. Algeria and Argentina reported their last cases of indigenous malaria in 2013 and 2010 respectively.

The WHO says that the certification is granted when a country proves that it has interrupted indigenous transmission of the disease for at least three consecutive years.

“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.”

Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito. It had an estimated 219 million cases and over 400 000 related deaths in 2017, most cases of whom were children aged below 5 years.

Algeria becomes the second country in the WHO African Region to be officially recognized as malaria-free, after Mauritius which got certification in 1973. Argentina is the second country in the WHO Region of the Americas to be certified, after Paraguay in June 2018.

For both Algeria and Argentina, malaria has a history that spans hundreds of years, and the battle against the disease has been hard-fought. Over the last decade, improved surveillance allowed for every last case of malaria to be rapidly identified and treated. Importantly, both countries provided free diagnosis and treatment within their borders, ensuring no one was left behind in getting the services they needed to prevent, detect and cure the deadly disease.

Argentina started the fight against malaria in 1970s. Major elements of its approach included training of its health workers to spray homes with insecticides, diagnosing the disease through microscopy, and effectively responding to cases in the community.

The people of Argentina adopted cross-border collaboration that made them even more successful. Between 2000 and 2011, Argentina worked closely with the Bolivian government to spray more than 22000 homes in border areas and conducted widespread malaria testing.

“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 Pan American Health Organization, WHO Regional Office for the Americas. “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.”

The malaria parasite was discovered in Algeria in 1880. By the 1960s, malaria had become the country’s primary health challenge, with an estimated 80,000 cases reported each year.

Algeria’s success is attributed to a well-trained health workforce, the provision of malaria diagnosis and treatment through universal health care, and a rapid response to disease outbreaks. These helped the country to reach and maintain zero malaria cases.

“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.”

The certificates were presented by the WHO Director-General to representatives from Algeria and Argentina on the side-lines of the 72nd session of the World Health Assembly. Contacts: chaibf@who.int, okas@who.int and linnl@paho.org.

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