Algeria is now the fourth African country after Lesotho, Mauritius and Seychelles to be declared malaria-free.
The announcement on May 22 by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also listed Argentina as being malaria-free, making it the second country in the Americas to achieve that status.
Dr Ghebreyesus spoke on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
The certification is granted when a country proves that it has interrupted malaria transmission for at least three consecutive years within its borders.
In the past four years, Maldives (2015), Sri Lanka (2016), and Uzbekistan and Paraguay (2018) have also been declared malaria-free.
Dr Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, board chairperson of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership — the largest global platform for action towards a world free from malaria — termed Algeria’s case a “monumental achievement” for a disease that kills one child every two minutes.
She said: “With 90 per cent of global malaria cases contracted in Africa, achieving zero malaria cases for several consecutive years shows the power of political will and effective monitoring strategies, which we hope to see expand across Africa.”
French physician Dr Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran discovered the malaria parasite in Algeria in 1880. By the 1960s, the disease had become the country’s primary health challenge, with an estimated 80,000 cases reported each year.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said: “Algeria has shown the rest of Africa that malaria can be beaten through leadership, bold action, sound investment and science. The rest of the continent can learn from this experience.”
Algeria and Argentina reported their last cases of indigenous malaria in 2013 and 2010 respectively. They managed to become malaria-free through a number of measures. One, over the past decade, they improved surveillance of the disease, rapidly identifying and treating any case. Second, both countries provided free diagnosis and treatment within their borders.
Algeria’s malaria-free certification comes at a time when a vaccine, known as RTS,S (which had been in development for 30 years), was launched in Malawi in April this year, in a landmark pilot programme. The pilot will also be rolled out in Ghana and Kenya and targets children up to two-years-old in the three countries.
However, there have been concerns that the significant gains made over the decade could be lost as malaria cases are rising in the highest burden countries, including many African countries, for the first time in more than a decade, according to the WHO.
Nonetheless, Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, said malaria-free status is not only good for health but has economic benefits as well.
“…It provides external economic benefits for these countries enabling them to free up resources to address other health and development priorities and improve worker productivity and school attendance,” he said.