SEATTLE — The World Health Organization (WHO) has an ambitious strategy to significantly reduce malaria cases and deaths in the next 15 years. The organization’s goals are encouraged by a report from the Pan American Health Organization showing that since 2000 programs focused on the prevention of malaria and treatment of the disease have had a significant impact throughout South America.
According to the report, malaria cases dropped 67 percent across the Americas with 375,000 reported cases in 2014. The malaria mortality rate also significantly decreased to 89 deaths in the same year, down by 77 percent. In comparison, the region suffered 1.2 million cases and 390 deaths in 2000. Increased awareness about the disease, methods for the prevention of malaria and the proper use of insecticide-treated bed nets significantly contributed to the reduction.
November 6 is recognized in the public health community as Malaria Day in the Americas. In addition to engaging organizations and tracking progress in the fight to eliminate malaria, Malaria Day coincides with the day the malaria parasite was first observed in blood cells. These parasites are transmitted to humans by infected female mosquitos. While it is a life-threatening disease, the prevention of malaria is possible and it is curable.
Brazil, Honduras and Paraguay have been applauded as the 2015 Malaria Champions of the Americas. Of 21 malaria endemic countries in the Americas, 14 are officially committed to eliminating the disease. Many national programs are assisted by the WHO and Pan American Health Organization.
Brazil’s national program employs 14,000 health workers utilizing a multi-faceted strategy covering prevention of malaria, treatment and education about malaria across rural and urban areas. The most dramatic declines occurred in the lowest-income municipalities. “The Region of the Americas has demonstrated the capacity to reduce malaria significantly,” said Marcos Espinal, Director of the Department of Communicable Diseases.
Concern about malaria is not limited to the Americas. The disease particularly impacts Sub-Saharan Africa. Around the world, approximately 3.2 billion people remain at risk of malaria, but with the continuation of prevention programs that number is dropping. Many academic institutes, public health researchers, international organizations and NGOs such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation place an emphasis on global prevention of malaria and treatment.
Malaria is estimated to have a significant impact on the economy of affected regions. Areas with high malaria rates traditionally experience lower annual economic growth. The expense of the prevention of malaria and treatment, along with lost productivity and human resources, is considered a contributor to the disease’s negative economic impact. Wide-spread malaria also reduces an area’s appeal to tourists and new markets. Malaria is now considered a cause of poverty as well as a symptom perpetuating socioeconomic inequalities.
The WHO’s current strategy, adopted in May 2015, sets the bar high aiming to reduce malaria cases and mortality rates by at least 90 percent by 2030. While noteworthy progress has been made, efforts for effective prevention programs and malaria elimination remain a priority for the next 15 years and beyond.