In 1961, Venezuela became the first country to appear on a World Health Organization register of malaria-free countries — nearly a decade before the United States was added to that list.
Today, just over half a century later, malaria has anything but disappeared. In fact, it’s on the rise.
In 2017, more than 400,000 Venezuelans suffered from the mosquito-borne disease, which is five times the number of infections in 2013, the Guardian reports. Between 2016 and 2017, as the country’s economic spiral deepened, malaria rates increased by nearly 70%.
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"What we are now seeing is a massive increase, probably reaching close to half a million cases per year,” Pedro Alonso, director of WHO's global malaria program, said in a statement in April.
This increase comes as the country struggles to provide basic health services to its citizens, and hospitals and clinics lack everything from medicines to surgical supplies to infant formula.
“The malaria epidemic has been fuelled by financial constraints for the procurement of malaria commodities — such as insecticides, drugs, diagnostic supplies, and mosquito nets — and surveillance activities, internal migration associated with illegal gold mining, and lack of provision and implementation of services,” Maria Eugenia Grillet, a professor at Venezuela’s Central University, told the Guardian.
Experts warn that the malaria increase in Venezuela could also affect neighboring countries, including Brazil and Colombia.
“In the Americas, it’s not just Venezuela,” Alonso said. “We’re actually reporting increases in a number of other countries.”
This increase across the continent comes after years of sustained progress in the Americas. Between 2000 and 2014, malaria dropped nearly 70% across the Americas — from more than 1.2 million cases to less than 400,000, according to statistics from the Pan American Health Organization.
Some experts, like Mary Ann Torres, executive director of the Toronto-based health organization ICASO, have criticized the Venezuelan government for failing to take action to stem malaria.
“In large part, there is complete lack of government interest both because the current government has used health care as a political weapon and also because it does not want to admit that the first country to claim malaria elimination has a malaria crisis,” Torres told the Guardian.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and good health and well-being is Goal 3. Worldwide, the WHO has estimated that 212 million people worldwide suffered from malaria in 2015 — and 90% of cases were in Sub-Saharan Africa. You can join us and take action here.