Cape Verde has become the third African nation to be declared malaria free, even as the disease continues to kill hundreds of thousands of people on the continent, the World Health Organization said Friday.
The Atlantic archipelago of about 500,000 inhabitants follows Mauritius in 1973 and Algeria in 2019.
Worldwide some 43 countries have been certified as malaria-free by the WHO, which requires showing that the domestic chain of transmission has been broken for at least three consecutive years.
“I salute the government and people of Cabo Verde for their unwavering commitment and resilience in their journey to eliminating malaria,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, using the country’s local name.
“WHO’s certification of Cabo Verde being malaria-free is testament to the power of strategic public health planning, collaboration, and sustained effort to protect and promote health.”
The WHO estimates that malaria killed 608,000 people worldwide and infected 250 million in 2022.
The disease is particularly present in Africa, which in 2021 accounted for 95 percent of deaths and 94 percent of contaminations. Children under five represented 80 percent of the deaths in Africa, the WHO said.
“Cabo Verde’s achievement is a beacon of hope for the African Region and beyond. It demonstrates that with strong political will, effective policies, community engagement and multi-sectoral collaboration, malaria elimination is an achievable goal,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“The attainment of this milestone by Cabo Verde is an inspiring example for other nations to follow.”
Malaria is transmitted to humans through bites of infected female mosquitoes and is most present in the tropics.
Cases can be limited to flu-like headaches and fevers, or depending on the variety, can lead to death within 24 hours.
Anti-malaria campaigns have largely focused on prevention through mosquito nets and preventative medicines, as well as eradication campaigns using insecticides.
However, since 2021 the WHO has recommended two different vaccines.
The WHO stressed the advantages for Cape Verde of freeing itself from the disease.
The certification “has the potential to attract more visitors and boost socio-economic activities in a country where tourism accounts for approximately 25 percent of GDP.”
Before the 1950s, all 10 islands in the country were affected by malaria and severe epidemics regularly broke out in the most densely populated areas, according to the WHO.
Thanks to insecticide spraying, the country eliminated malaria in 1967 and again in 1983, but lapses in the eradication campaign led to a return of the disease each time.
Since the last peak in the late 1980s, malaria in Cape Verde has been confined to two islands: Santiago and Boa Vista, which have now both been malaria-free since 2017.
Eliminating malaria became a national objective in 2007, leading to a strategic malaria plan from 2009 to 2013.
The plan focused on expanded diagnosis, early and effective treatment, and the reporting and investigating of all cases, the WHO said, adding that Cape Verde authorities kept up their vigilance during the Covid-19 pandemic.
To stem the tide of imported cases, diagnosis and treatment were provided free of charge to international travellers and migrants.