Six African countries on the verge of becoming malaria-free

Malaria costs Africa $12 billion every year. Last year alone, 214 million new cases of the disease were reported in 95 countries and more than 400 000 people died of malaria. Most of these deaths were in Africa. This has to change.

A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), “Eliminating Malaria”, highlights that 21 countries are in a position to achieve at least one year of zero indigenous cases of the disease by 2020; six of these countries are African. They are Algeria, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Comoros, South Africa and Swaziland.

“WHO commends these countries while also highlighting the urgent need for greater investment in settings with high rates of malaria transmission, particularly in Africa. Saving lives must be our first priority,” Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, said.

Since the year 2000, malaria mortality rates have declined by 60 percent globally. In the WHO African Region, malaria mortality rates fell by 66 percent among all age groups and by 71 percent among children under 5 years.

The advances came through the use of core malaria control tools that have been widely deployed over the last decade: insecticide-treated bed-nets, indoor residual spraying, rapid diagnostic testing and artemisinin-based combination therapies.

However, eliminating malaria will not be easy, as the efficacy of the tools that secured the gains against malaria in the early years of this century is now threatened. Mosquito resistance to insecticides used in nets and indoor residual spraying is growing. So too is parasite resistance to a component of one of the most powerful antimalarial medicines. Further progress against malaria will likely require new tools that do not exist today, and the further refining of new technologies.

As things stand, nearly half of the world’s population, 3.2 billion people, remain at risk of malaria.

Last year, the World Health Assembly resolved to eliminate malaria from at least 35 countries by 2030. While the goal is an ambitious one, it is achievable.

The “Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030”, approved by the World Health Assembly in 2015, aims to reduce the rate of new malaria cases by at least 90 percent, reduce malaria death rates by at least 90 percent, eliminate malaria in at least 35 countries and prevent a resurgence of malaria in all countries that are malaria-free.

In 2015, there were 214 million new cases of the disease and more than 400 000 malaria-related deaths. Africa accounted for 90 percent of these deaths. Two countries, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, together account for more than 35 percent of global malaria deaths.

African countries and the world at large can can accelerate progress towards the 2030 goals of the Global Technical Strategy – including a 90 percent reduction in case incidence and mortality by embracing these core principles: using effective mix of interventions and strategies tailored to local contexts;  government stewardship in malaria-endemic countries, together with the engagement and participation of affected communities; strengthened surveillance; equity in access to health services; as well as innovation in malaria control tools.