PAHO Honors 2012 Malaria Champions of the Americas

8 Nov 2012

Washington, D.C., November  9, 2012 (PAHO/WHO)- Three government-supported anti-malaria programs from Paraguay, Brazil, and Ecuador were named Malaria Champions of the Americas this week for their success in reducing the burden of malaria through improved diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance.

The winners were honored during an event marking the 6th annual Malaria Day in the Americas, at the headquarters of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

The top Malaria Champion of the Americas award went to the National Malaria Control Program of Paraguay, which has reduced the burden of malaria by focusing on the elimination of local transmission and the use of a systematic model for testing, treating, and tracking malaria cases that emphasizes community volunteers, strategic supervision, support of personnel, assurance of quality services, and effective use of local resources.

Paraguay's National Malaria Control Program (SENEPA) is geographically decentralized into 18 zones and 40 sectors, effectively covering all departments and districts. Its surveillance system consists of a network of 4,868 volunteers working in coordination with local reporting units to ensure timely detection of suspicious cases.  As of 2011, the number of malaria cases reported in Paraguay was down 99% compared with 2002. The country's last malaria-related death was reported in 1989.

Two other programs were also named Malaria Champions of the Americas 2012. The State Health Department of Acre, Brazil, was honored for its integrated malaria control program, which has helped reduce malaria cases from 140.2 per 1,000 inhabitants in 2006 to 30.8 per 1,000 in 2011.

Ecuador's Malaria Control and Surveillance program was recognized for helping reduce malaria incidence by 70% over the past two years through efforts to strengthen diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up and to eliminate local transmission where feasible.

"It's our hope that it gets better for our countries in terms of reducing malaria cases and deaths," said Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, Director of PAHO/WHO. Countries of the Americas have committed to further reduce malaria-related cases, implement efforts to eliminate malaria in areas deemed feasible, reverse the trend in countries that saw an increased number of malaria cases; and prevent the reintroduction in countries declared malaria-free.

"These are tall commitments and orders, especially because oftentimes when things have significantly improved, there is a tendency to slow down, think that we have done enough, and believe that the battle is won. Also sometimes, the choices and priorities we make inadvertently place our achievers at a disadvantage instead of recognizing them for their good work," Dr. Roses said. "In many cases, when we reduce malaria burden, funding and resources for these programs also diminish. This is a huge mistake especially if our goal is to eliminate local malaria transmission".     

The countries of the Americas have significantly decreased their malaria burden over the past decade. The number of malaria cases in the Region declined by 59% between 2000 and 2011, and the number of malaria-related deaths declined by 70%. Despite these achievements, malaria transmission persists in 21 countries, and some 23 million people in the Region continue to be at risk. Malaria experts warn that countries that have succeeded in lowering their malaria burdens are particularly at risk of reduced support and commitment from various stakeholders.

Participants in a panel discussion organized for Malaria Day in the Americas noted that funding has increased over the past decade for prevention efforts, such as long-lasting insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying. However, less attention has been paid to the need to expand diagnostic testing, treatment, and surveillance. Malaria experts say that these three areas are critical for advancing the Millennium Development Goals and the objective set by the World Health Assembly to reduce the burden of malaria by at least 75% by 2015. Through its T3 initiative (Test. Treat. Track.), PAHO/WHO encourages partners, donors, and malaria-endemic countries to substantially increase investment in diagnostic testing, treatment and surveillance capacity, coverage and infrastructure.

"Highlighting the best practices and great work that our Malaria Champions this year in Brazil, Ecuador, and Paraguay are doing is one way to catalyze improvement in other countries. The replication of these best practices when appropriate in other parts of the world is really the best reward possible," said PAHO Deputy Director, Dr. Jon Andrus. "If done well, as our Champions have demonstrated this past year, elimination of local transmission of malaria in many areas can and will happen". Assistant Director, Dr. Socorro Gross called to "protect the gains" and keep investing in the battle against malaria to achieve the elimination of this disease.

PAHO/WHO also supports member countries' malaria efforts through its coordination of the Amazon Malaria Initiative (AMI) and the Amazon Network for the Surveillance of Antimalarial Drug Resistance (RAVREDA), which have received financial support from USAID since 2001. PAHO/WHO signed a new agreement with USAID this year to continue supporting AMI/RAVREDA and ensure technical cooperation that helps countries further reduce the malaria burden. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has also supported several PAHO member states in the areas of microscopy diagnosis, rapid diagnostic tests; the introduction of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), and improvement of malaria surveillance.

Launched in 2007, Malaria Day in the Americas aims to raise awareness, build commitment, and mobilize action to advance malaria goals and targets at the global, regional, country, and community levels. The Malaria Champions of the Americas contest, launched in 2008, seeks to identify, celebrate, and provide avenues to emulate best practices and success stories in malaria prevention and control. Both initiatives are organized each year by PAHO/WHO, the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF), and George Washington University's Center for Global Health.

PAHO, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).