Global perspective Human stories

A ‘malaria-free future’ is possible, UN chief says on international day

A mother and her nine-month-old baby sit under a UNICEF-supplied bed net in Upper Nile state, South Sudan.
© UNICEF/Mark Naftalin
A mother and her nine-month-old baby sit under a UNICEF-supplied bed net in Upper Nile state, South Sudan.

A ‘malaria-free future’ is possible, UN chief says on international day


 Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple crises it has sparked, a growing number of countries are approaching and achieving malaria elimination, the UN chief said on Sunday, World Malaria Day

“We commend all countries that have reached the ambitious target of zero malaria”, said Secretary-General António Guterres.  

“Together, they are showing the world that a malaria-free future is possible”. 

Tweet URL

‘Key to success’ 

Countries with zero malaria have reached the people at risk with the necessary services, from prevention to detection and treatment, regardless of citizenship or financial status,  said the top UN official.   

“Sustained funding, surveillance systems and community engagement have been the key to success”, he added.  

Yet, while these achievements deserve celebrating, it is important to remember the millions around the world who continue to suffer and die from this deadly illness.   

Each year, malaria claims the lives of more than 400,000 people, mainly young children in Africa.  And, every year, there are more than 200 million new cases of this fatal parasitic disease.   

With robust political commitment, adequate investment and the right mix of strategies, “malaria can be defeated”, upheld the UN Secretary-General.   

Stamping out malaria 

Between 2000 and 2019, the number of countries with fewer than 100 indigenous malaria cases increased from six to 27, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), calling it “a strong indicator” that malaria elimination is within reach.

The UN health agency lauded those countries that have already done so saying: “They provide inspiration for all nations that are working to stamp out this deadly disease and improve the health and livelihoods of their populations”.

Country breakdown 

In 2019, Africa shouldered 94 per cent of all malaria cases and deaths worldwide, with more than half of all cases occurring in the five countries of Nigeria, 27 per cent; Democratic Republic of the Congo, 12 per cent; Uganda and Niger, five per cent each; and Mozambique, four per cent, according to WHO.

During that same period, about three per cent per cent of malaria cases were reported in South-East Asia and two per cent in the Eastern Mediterranean region.  

The Americas and Western Pacific region each accounted for fewer than one per cent of all cases. 

Certifying zero malaria 

Certification of malaria elimination is WHO’s official recognition of a country’s malaria-free status, which it grants when a State has proven, beyond reasonable doubt, that the chain of indigenous malaria transmission has been interrupted nationwide for at least the past three consecutive years. 

Following 50 years of solid commitment by the Government and people of El Salvador to end the disease, in February it became the first country in Central America to receive the distinction. 

Meanwhile China, which  registered zero indigenous cases in 2016 and has stayed malaria-free to date, applied last year for the WHO malaria-free certification.