World Malaria Day – PAHO urges countries to step up access to diagnosis and treatment for vulnerable populations

malaria testing

Washington D.C. 25 April 2024 (PAHO) – With countries of the Americas reporting around 480,000 cases of malaria in 2023, on World Malaria Day, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has called on governments to step up efforts to tackle the disease, which disproportionately impacts indigenous communities, migrant and other vulnerable populations.

While the number of reported malaria cases in the Americas has declined since 2017, when cases reached a peak of 934,000, some countries are still far from achieving the target of 75% reduction by 2025, as proposed by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) malaria strategy,” Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, Director of Communicable Diseases at PAHO said. “This is due to the fact that many populations continue to miss out on key interventions, particularly in remote and hard-to-reach areas.”

Miners, agricultural workers and other mobile populations are at particular risk of malaria, accounting for between 29 and 64% of cases in some countries, while Indigenous populations are also hardest hit, accounting for between 25 and 100% of cases. In some parts of the Amazon basin, up to 45% of malaria cases are reported in children under the age of 10 years.

To address this, PAHO has called on countries to ensure the availability of malaria diagnosis and treatment services at the primary health care level, particularly in high burden areas. Involving affected communities is also key to addressing the issue. This includes involving community health workers who are trained to carry out rapid testing and provide treatment within indigenous and hard-to-reach areas.

“Reaching global malaria targets will require an urgent shift in our malaria response, addressing the root causes of the disease, and ensuring that essential health services are delivered equitably. “Innovative methods of delivering health care, including through community health volunteers, is a crucial part of this,” Dr. Aldighieri, added.

PAHO continues to work with countries of Americas to ensure the implementation of the Organization’s Action Plan 2021-2025, which is aligned with the WHO malaria strategy. The plan of action seeks to guide national plans and promote joint efforts between countries and partners in malaria detection, diagnosis and response.

In the Americas, Paraguay was certified malaria-free in 2018, followed by Argentina in 2019, El Salvador in 2021 and Belize in 2023. This brings the number of malaria-endemic countries in the region to 17 from 21 in 2015. Suriname, Mexico and the Dominican Republic are also close to eliminating the disease.

Malaria is an acute febrile disease caused by the parasite Plasmodium, which is transmitted by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. Symptoms, including fever, headache and chills, which may be mild. Left untreated, malaria can progress to severe illness and even death.