Cape Verde eliminates malaria; becomes fourth country in Africa

Cape Verde has achieved a significant milestone by becoming the fourth country in Africa and the 44th in the world to successfully eliminate malaria. This accomplishment is particularly noteworthy considering that Africa bears the highest burden of malaria globally, with 94% of the 249 million cases and 95% of deaths recorded on the continent in 2022.

Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritius had previously been certified as malaria-free in 2019, 2010, and 1973, respectively. Cape Verde’s journey to elimination involved addressing severe epidemics that once affected all ten islands of the archipelago. However, since the 1980s, malaria had been confined to just two islands, Santiago and Boa Vista, both of which reported no cases since 2017.

The World Health Organization (WHO) commended Cape Verde’s commitment and resilience in achieving this feat. The country’s strategy included providing free treatment and testing for all new arrivals, along with systematic surveillance and mapping of mosquito breeding sites throughout the year. These measures will continue to be in place, not only to sustain the elimination of malaria but also to combat other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the WHO, expressed optimism about the global fight against malaria and emphasized the importance of both existing tools and new interventions such as vaccines. Despite the progress made, the global burden of malaria remains substantial, with approximately 608,000 deaths in 2022, primarily affecting children and pregnant women.

The WHO has approved two vaccines to aid in the fight against malaria: the R21/Matrix-M, recommended for widespread use in 2022, and the RTS,S vaccine, endorsed in 2021, which is set to be rolled out in 12 African countries over the next two years. The achievement of malaria-free status is expected to have a positive impact on Cape Verde’s external image, benefiting areas like tourism. The country’s prime minister, Ulisses Correia e Silva, emphasized the recognition of Cape Verde’s health system overcoming challenges and the significance of this milestone for the nation.

Cape Verde’s certification as a malaria-free country marks a significant achievement not only in public health but also in bolstering the nation’s global standing. Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva acknowledged the positive impact on Cape Verde’s external image, emphasizing the recognition of the country’s health system overcoming challenges.

This success story showcases the effectiveness of Cape Verde’s comprehensive approach, including free treatment and testing for new arrivals, ongoing surveillance, and mapping of mosquito breeding sites. Importantly, the infrastructure developed to combat malaria will continue to serve the country in addressing other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever. This sustainability strategy aligns with a broader public health perspective, recognizing the interconnectedness of various health challenges.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, commended Cape Verde’s unwavering commitment and resilience in the long journey to eliminate malaria. He expressed hope that this success, coupled with existing tools and new interventions like vaccines, could contribute to the collective aspiration of a malaria-free world.

It’s worth noting that despite the progress in malaria elimination, the global fight against the disease faces ongoing challenges. The number of malaria cases and deaths remains significantly higher than pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels. The disruption of healthcare services during the pandemic is estimated to have contributed to 63,000 malaria deaths between 2019 and 2021.

The approval and deployment of malaria vaccines, such as the R21/Matrix-M and RTS,S, represent crucial steps forward in malaria prevention. As these vaccines are rolled out in African countries, it’s anticipated that they will contribute to further reducing the burden of the disease, particularly among vulnerable populations.

Cape Verde’s success not only contributes to the global effort to eliminate malaria but also serves as an inspiration for other regions facing similar challenges. It underscores the importance of sustained efforts, international collaboration, and innovative strategies in achieving significant public health milestones. The journey to a malaria-free world requires continued dedication, resources, and a united front against this mosquito-borne disease.

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