Another April 25 has come and gone and the observance of World Malaria Day reveals that progress has essentially stalled in the battle against the vector-borne parasitic disease.
The World Health Organization reports:
After more than a decade of steady advances in fighting malaria, progress has levelled off. According to WHO’s latest World malaria report, no significant gains were made in reducing malaria cases in the period 2015 to 2017. The estimated number of malaria deaths in 2017, at 435 000, remained virtually unchanged over the previous year.
The WHO African Region continues to shoulder more than 90% of the global malaria burden. Worryingly, in the 10 African countries hardest hit by malaria, there were an estimated 3.5 million more cases of the disease in 2017 over the previous year.
Disheartening news to be sure; however, one thing I noticed from the global and national health organizations and most media promoting World Malaria Day 2019 was the lack of coverage concerning the malaria catastrophe that has been unfolding in Venezuela.
Data shows that between 2000-2015 Venezuela witnessed a 4.6 fold increase in malaria cases (from 29,736 cases in 2000 to 136,402 in 2015), followed by a 71% increase in 2017 (411 586 cases) compared with 2016 (240 613).
The number of cases reported in 2015 was the most reported in 75 years, since reliable records have been kept in the country.
By 2017, malaria cases in Venezuela represented more than half of cases in the entire WHO region of the Americas: these updated numbers (from the latest World Malaria Report in 2018), show the proportion from Venezuela to be 53% (519,209/975,700). This is an increase of more than 20 times since the year 2000, when Venezuela accounted for only 2.5% (29,736/1,181,095) of the cases in the continent.
In February I reported on numbers reported by a consortium of five global health organizations to include ASOCIS and Global Development One which show more than 1 million cases in 2018, far higher than official numbers being floated around by the Venezuelan Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization (~430,000 cases).
In fact, Leopoldo Villegas, MD, DTM&H, MSc, DrPH, AdvDPHM with Global Development One told me that as of Feb. 14, 2019, 1,302,670 malaria cases in 2018– this include new cases, recrudescences, relapses, self-medication and underreporting during 2018.
It is such a troubling situation. In fact, Pedro Alonso, WHO director for Malaria Control said earlier this year, “In the 1950s, when the WHO launched its first campaigns, Venezuela was the first country to have entire regions declared free of the disease,” he said. “Today, however, it is the largest increase in the world”.
He has previously been quoted as saying, “The increase is real and very worrying.”
It is very worrying as the disease spreads out of Venezuela to neighboring countries by the thousands.
Hopefully, between now and the next World Malaria Day, more attention to this crisis will be given it’s due.
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