Fighting malaria is a smart investment to strengthen health systems and protect people’s health, create opportunity, and foster economic growth and security.
Countries like El Salvador that achieve malaria-free certification benefit from stronger health systems, freeing up resources to address current and future pandemics and other health and development priorities.
Without malaria, a country’s citizens are healthier, increasing children’s ability to go to school and reach their full potential, and parents’ productivity, ultimately impacting the country’s economy.
Reaching zero malaria opens the door to new investment by private sector companies that don’t have to consider the impact of malaria on employee productivity.
Eliminating malaria globally could save 11 million lives and unlock an estimated $2 trillion in economic benefits from gains in productivity and health savings.
El Salvador's journey – particularly in the face of COVID-19 – demonstrates that with sustained political will and funding, countries can go from being a malaria hotspot to malaria-free, and that elimination is possible.
Ending this preventable but deadly disease relies on malaria-affected countries building on the lessons learned from those that have achieved elimination.
The country's success offers inspiration and important lessons for other countries to follow. Key success factors include:
Strong surveillance systems and community-based care – including a network of more than 5,000 community volunteers and vector control staff – which allowed for every last case of malaria to be rapidly identified and treated and also helps protect against the spread of other infectious diseases.
Cross-border and regional cooperation, including participation in regional elimination initiatives like the Regional Malaria Elimination Initiative in Central America (RMEI).
Multisectoral collaboration, which reduces the strain on health systems and economies in malaria-endemic areas, contributes to the sustainability and resilience of health programs, and, ultimately, accelerates progress towards ending malaria.
The global malaria map is shrinking. El Salvador's success brings us to a total of 21 countries that have achieved three consecutive years of zero indigenous malaria cases since 2000.
21 more countries around the world are now malaria-free than there were at the start of the 21st century. This continues an upward trend and almost doubling of countries that reduced the burden of malaria to under 10,000 cases since 2000.
The global community achieved the goal of eliminating malaria in at least 10 additional countries since 2015.
According to the 2020 World Malaria Report, more countries than ever – 46 – have fewer than 10,000 malaria cases, moving the world closer to the goal of malaria elimination.
Between 2000-2019, 21 countries reported at least three consecutive years of zero indigenous malaria cases, and 10 of these countries were certified malaria-free by WHO.
In the period 2010–2019, total malaria cases in the 21 countries that were part of the E-2020 initiative dropped by 80%.
In 2019, China reported zero indigenous cases of malaria for the third consecutive year; the country recently applied for the official WHO certification of malaria elimination.
El Salvador is the 38th country to achieve malaria-free certification, following Argentina and Algeria in 2019 and Paraguay in 2018.
These recent certifications mean that the malaria map keeps shrinking. The number of malaria-free countries (107) outnumbering malaria endemic countries (87) is growing.
Celebrating and learning lessons from these victories is critical at a time when malaria cases are rising in the highest burden countries for the first time in more than a decade.
Eliminating malaria helps countries be better prepared and able to manage current diseases, including COVID-19, which threaten the historic gains made against malaria. We must continue to fight this deadly disease and keep our sights firmly set on malaria elimination.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged as a serious additional challenge to malaria responses worldwide.
Strong health systems, cross-border collaboration, sustained political will and financial commitments to public health are all needed to fight threats to global health, whether ancient – like malaria – or new – like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the unprecedented global health crisis, countries continued their march towards elimination in 2020; several nations have successfully kept malaria at bay in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting them on track for malaria-free certification in 2021.
The investments in these countries’ health systems to eliminate the preventable and treatable infectious disease supported their efforts to address COVID-19.
Malaria investments provide a pathway to health security, simultaneously building resilient health systems and protecting the world from current and emerging disease threats.
Such investments can help secure supply chains, expand community health service delivery, and reduce strain on already fragile health systems.
Although El Salvador has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it continues its efforts to prevent the re-establishment of malaria transmission and maintain its malaria-free status.
Our gains against malaria over the last two decades, while substantial, will remain fragile until it is eradicated for good.
Achieving elimination depends on strong country commitment and innovative and sustained global partnerships.
The fight against malaria in El Salvador has been largely funded through domestic resources. However, the technical support and catalytic resources of partners such as Pan-American Health Organization/World Health Organization, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank were essential to accelerate malaria elimination.
El Salvador’s participation in regional malaria elimination initiatives such as Elimination of Malaria in Mesoamerica and the Island of Hispaniola (EMMIE) and the Regional Malaria Elimination Initiative (RMEI) helped streamline efforts and share lessons learned with other countries on the path to malaria elimination.