Africa is the continent with the highest prevalence of malaria which is a life-threatening disease caused by plasmodium parasites transmitted by the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. In 2017, Africa was home to 92% of malaria cases and 93% of malaria deaths, says the World Health Organisation (WHO) whose estimates amount to 219 million cases of malaria in 87 countries and 435,000 malaria deaths in 2017.
Only 38 countries and territories have been declared free of malaria including just one African country until Wednesday when the WHO declared another African country malaria-free.
Mauritius was recognized as malaria-free since 1973 and they were the only African country until certification was granted to Algeria making it the second African country to be malaria-free.
Algeria earned the certification with Argentina in 2019 after they proved that they had interrupted indigenous transmission of the disease for at least 3 consecutive years, says WHO in a statement.
“Algeria and Argentina have eliminated malaria thanks to the unwavering commitment and perseverance of the people and leaders of both countries… Their success serves as a model for other countries working to end this disease once and for all,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
The North African country is the first place in the world where the malaria parasite was discovered by French physician Dr Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran in 1880. It reported its last case of indigenous malaria in 2013 after a hard battle against the disease for hundreds of years.
“Algeria is where the malaria parasite was first discovered in humans almost a century and a half ago… 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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
A well-trained health workforce, the provision of malaria diagnosis and treatment through universal health care, and a rapid response to disease outbreaks over the last decade enabled the country to reach this milestone, WHO noted.
Trial of the world’s first malaria vaccines has been launched in Malawi as part of a large-scale pilot project run by the World Health Organization (WHO) to give partial protection against the disease.
360,000 children are expected to take the injectable vaccines within a year after the pilot is also rolled out in Ghana and Kenya where children aged between 5 and 17 months would be injected.
The RTS,S vaccine which prevented approximately four in 10 malaria cases during clinical trials train the immune system to attack the parasite which is spread by mosquito bites, says the WHO.
The vaccine would be administered four times: once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later.
Also known as Mosquirix, the vaccine was created by scientists at the British pharmaceutical giant GSK in 1987. It has undergone years of testing and was supported by numerous organizations including PATH, a non-profit organization.
The WHO said the vaccine would be used in addition to insecticides and mosquito nets which are currently the two major methods of prevention with limited impact.