GENEVA, May 22 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) granted malaria-free certification on Wednesday to Algeria and Argentina, after the two countries had proved that the indigenous transmission of the disease had been interrupted for at least three consecutive years.
Algeria is the second country in the WHO African Region to be officially recognized as malaria-free after Mauritius, which was certified in 1973. Argentina is the second in the WHO Region of the Americas to be certified in 45 years, after Paraguay in June 2018.
For both Algeria and Argentina, malaria has a history that spans hundreds of years, and the battle against the disease has been hard fought. Over the last decade, improved surveillance allowed for every last case of malaria to be rapidly identified and treated. Algeria and Argentina reported their last cases of indigenous malaria in 2013 and 2010, respectively.
Their success was largely due to free diagnosis and treatment within their borders, which have ensured no one was left behind in getting the services they needed to prevent, detect and cure the disease.
"Algeria and Argentina have eliminated malaria thanks to the unwavering commitment and perseverance of the people and leaders of both countries," said WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Their success serves as a model for other countries working to end this disease once and for all."
Malaria is contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito. It remains one of the world's leading killers, with an estimated 219 million cases and over 400,000 malaria-related deaths in 2017. About 60 percent of fatalities are among children aged under 5, according to the WHO.
The malaria parasite was discovered in Algeria in 1880. By the 1960s, malaria had become the country's primary health challenge, with an estimated 80,000 cases reported each year.
The country's success in beating the disease can be attributed primarily to a well-trained health care workforce, the provision of malaria diagnosis and treatment through universal health care, and a rapid response to disease outbreaks, the WHO said.
In Argentina, efforts to eliminate malaria began in the 1970s. Key measures included training health workers to spray homes with insecticides, diagnosing the disease by microscopy, and effectively responding to cases in the community.
The WHO grants a certification of malaria elimination when a country has proven, beyond reasonable doubt, that the chain of indigenous transmission has been interrupted nationwide for at least the previous three consecutive years.
In addition, a national surveillance system capable of rapidly detecting and responding to any malaria cases must be operational, together with an effective program to prevent the recurrence of the disease.