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The Pan American Health Organisation visits Paraguay during Vaccination Week.
Pan American Health Organisation, Flickr

Paraguay Has Officially Eliminated Malaria

Paraguay hasn’t seen a case of malaria in five years, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday, the country has now officially “eliminated” the disease as a result.

To break it down, that status is only granted to a country when it’s proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that local transmissions have been interrupted for at least three years. This doesn’t include imported cases, like when somebody brings the disease with them from another country. A certification request must be made to WHO, with field studies conducted to confirm the claim.

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Paraguay is the first country in the Americas to eliminate malaria since Cuba in 1973 — the year that Britain first joined the European Union. In other words, it’s been a really long time.

Malaria infected 216 million people worldwide in 2016, and caused 445,000 deaths, WHO reports. The previous year saw similar numbers, with 211 million infections and 446,000 deaths.

But the case of Paraguay is remarkable because there’s actually been “substantial increases” in new cases in the Americas between 2014-2016, despite an overall decrease in the region since 2010. In the 1940s, the country reported over 80,000 cases of the disease.

WHO named Paraguay as one of 21 potential countries capable of eliminating malaria by 2020 — and Algeria, Argentina, and Uzbekistan may very well follow suit later this year. Sri Lanka was the last country to declare it had eliminated malaria, in 2016.

“It gives me great pleasure today to certify that Paraguay is officially free of malaria,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO. “Success stories like Paraguay’s show what is possible. If malaria can be eliminated in one country, it can be eliminated in all countries.”

But outside the Americas, it looks like malaria is getting worse.

For the first time in a decade, malaria cases went up in 2016. Global Citizen has previously reported that global funding has slowed since 2010, with billions of dollars worth of investment required to meet WHO’s 2030 targets. Moreover, resistance is building towards the drugs and sprays used to take down the mosquito that carries the parasite.

Just 15 countries accounted for 80% of all global malaria deaths in 2016 — and apart from India, all of them were from sub-Saharan Africa.

Malaria is a disease that initially feels like a fever, but can develop into a serious illness and death if it isn’t treated within 24 hours. After infection it can take 10 to 15 days before the first symptoms start to appear.

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However, WHO feels optimistic. Another country has rid itself of one of the world’s most deadly diseases, and malaria mortality rates have fallen by 60% since the turn of the millenium, saving around 7 million lives.

“This is a powerful reminder for the region of what can be achieved when countries are focused on an important goal,” said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organisation, a WHO regional office. “We are hopeful that other countries will soon join Paraguay in eliminating malaria.”

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, which include action on health and well-being. You can join us in our campaign to improve healthcare for the world’s most vulnerable people by taking action here.