Algeria and Argentina became the latest countries to eliminate malaria within their borders, the World Health Organization announced on May 22.
The achievement is especially meaningful because malaria was first discovered in Algeria, when the French physician Dr. Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran discovered the parasite that transmits the disease in the 1880s.
“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, in a statement. “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 WHO said that both countries defeated the mosquito-borne disease through effective health care mobilization. Trained health care professionals ensured that people received the treatment they needed, and worked relentlessly to contain the disease.
Their work paid off in the end. The last reported case of malaria occurred in 2010 for Algeria, and in 2013 for Argentina.
“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, in a statement. “Their success serves as a model for other countries working to end this disease once and for all.”
Globally, 38 countries have eliminated the disease that infected 219 million people and killed over 400,000 in 2017.
Malaria is typically spread to humans through mosquitoes, which transfer a parasite carrying the disease when they bite. Mosquitos, conversely, pick up the disease by biting people who are infected. In this way, a vicious cycle of infections can rapidly occur once the disease takes hold in a population.
Malaria can also be spread through needle sharing, blood transfusion, and from mother to child during birth.
Children under the age of 5 are most likely to die from the disease, and 90% of malaria-related deaths happen in southern Africa, where inadequate health care systems prevent people from getting the treatment they need to overcome an infection, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Although Algeria and Argentina have stopped the threat of malaria, they’re not in the clear forever. Other countries that have been declared malaria-free have seen outbreaks again.
Venezuela was the first country in the world to be declared malaria-free back in 1961. Today, the country is facing a malaria crisis that is spiraling out of control.
The country’s decline shows the urgent need to be maintain strong health care systems around the world in order to eradicate malaria once and for all.