• Africa is making great progress in fighting Malaria, a disease that is widespread in the continent, and according to the World Health Organization, six countries in the region could be free of the disease by 2020.

    The WHO said on Monday in a report published to mark World Malaria Day. The six countries are Algeria, Botswana, Cape Verde, Comoros, South Africa, and Swaziland.

    Malaria still remains a major threat in Africa with 9 out of ten deaths from Malaria in 2015 being from Sub-Saharan Africa, but there is hope. The WHO report shows that malaria mortality rates have fallen considerably in the past decade.

    While the malaria mortality rates have declined by 60% globally, in the African region “malaria mortality rates fell by 66% among all age groups and by 71% among children under 5 years,” the report indicates.

    According to WHO, the malaria infection rates are falling due to the widespread use of “insecticide-treated bed nets, regular bug spraying inside dwellings and rapid diagnostic testing, and artemisinin-based combination therapies.”

    They also noted that even as the malaria menace is being wiped out, the challenge has been keeping up with the efficacy of the tools that secured the gains against malaria in the early years of the century because is now being threatened. This has been brought about by “mosquito resistance to insecticides used in nets and indoor residual spraying. So too is parasite resistance to a component of one of the most powerful antimalarial medicines.”

    Contributing to the fight against malaria, last year, a malaria vaccine received a positive scientific opinion from the European Medicines Agency. Following this achievement, the WHO says it has already recommended pilot projects for the vaccine in several African countries, “which could pave the way for wider deployment in the years ahead.”

    Strategy to fight disease

    The fight against malaria, in some parts of Africa, has in the past been held back by misdiagnoses of the disease, however, with diagnostic testing over the last decade, the WHO says, “has made it easier to distinguish swiftly between malarial and non-malarial fevers, enabling timely and appropriate treatment.”

    In their fight against the disease, the WHO has set targets in its Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030, which gives “a technical framework for all malaria-endemic countries” as they pursue their goal to control and eliminate the disease.

    By 2030, the strategy hopes to have reduced malaria cases and mortality rates by at least 90% as well as prevent a resurgence of malaria in all countries that are malaria-free.

    Initially, the strategy set a target of eliminating local transmission of malaria in at least 10 countries by 2020, but the "WHO estimates that 21 countries are in a position to achieve this goal, including six countries in the African Region, where the burden of the disease is heaviest," the Geneva-based organization said in a statement.

    While the fight against malaria remains a goal for Africa, it has already been accomplished in Europe.

    Through robust financing and political will, the WHO says that affected countries can speed progress towards malaria elimination and contribute to the broader development agenda as laid out in the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

    Image credit: Fabian Biasio