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The Government of Cape Verde has announced that on December 12, the archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, achieved the milestone of becoming the third country in Africa where malaria is officially declared eradicated, despite the disease’s ongoing impact with hundreds of thousands of casualties on the continent each year.
Cape Verde, an island nation with approximately 500,000 residents, holds the distinction of being the first country in sub-Saharan Africa in fifty years, following Mauritius in 1973, acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO) for successfully eliminating malaria. The WHO, in a press release, lauds this accomplishment as a “significant success in global health.”
Over forty nations have received similar certification, granted when a country furnishes evidence demonstrating the interruption of household mosquito transmission nationwide for a minimum of three consecutive years. In Africa, alongside Mauritius and Cape Verde, Algeria earned the designation of being malaria-free in 2019.
Nonetheless, malaria remains a significant global health challenge, causing an estimated 608,000 deaths in 2022 and nearly 250 million infections worldwide, as highlighted on the WHO website. The burden is disproportionately borne by the fifty African countries, accounting for 580,000 deaths, constituting 95% of the global total, and 94% of infections. Children under the age of 5 contribute to 80% of the deaths in Africa.
WHO expressed optimism, stating that Cape Verde’s success is a ray of hope for the African region and beyond. It demonstrates that with strong political will, effective policies, community engagement, and multisectoral collaboration, eliminating malaria is an achievable goal.
This achievement, along with others, instils hope that, with existing or emerging tools, especially vaccines, we can start envisioning a world without malaria, emphasizes Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO. He presented the certification to the Cape Verdean Prime Minister, Ulisses Correia e Silva, during a ceremony held on Friday, January 12, in the capital, Praia.
Malaria primarily spreads to humans through the bites of specific types of infected female mosquitoes, predominantly occurring in tropical regions. Transmission can also happen through blood transfusions and contaminated needles. The disease may manifest with mild symptoms like fever and headache, but it can also lead to death within 24 hours, especially with the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which is most prevalent in Africa.
The battle against malaria has historically focused on prevention through the use of mosquito nets, preventive medications, and insecticides. However, a notable shift occurred in 2021 when the WHO updated its recommendations on its website, advocating for the use of two vaccines in the fight against malaria.
The Prime Minister of Cape Verde underscored the anticipated benefits of malaria eradication, emphasizing, “For a country heavily reliant on tourism as its main economic activity, eliminating malaria signifies removing a constraint on mobility and reinforcing the perception of health security. We now anticipate improved tourism results”. Tourism accounts for approximately 25% of Cape Verde’s GDP.
The WHO points out that before the 1950s, the archipelago frequently faced severe epidemics, affecting all the islands. Although the country successfully eliminated the disease in 1967 and 1983 through insecticide spraying, subsequent oversights allowed malaria to resurface. Since the last peak in the late 1980s, malaria has only persisted on two islands, Santiago and Boa Vista. The elimination of malaria became a national health objective in Cape Verde in 2007, leading to a strategic plan implemented between 2009 and 2013.
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