The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially certified Cape Verde as a malaria-free country, underscoring a remarkable milestone in global health. Cape Verde joins the distinguished list of 43 countries and one territory that have received WHO's prestigious malaria-free certification.
Considering that Africa bears the highest malaria burden, accounting for 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of related deaths in 2021, Cape Verde's certification represents a significant triumph in the fight against the disease on the continent.
According to a WHO press release, the certification not only acknowledges Cape Verde's achievement but also highlights the positive impact on the country's overall development. Systems and structures established for malaria elimination have fortified the health system, providing a robust foundation to combat other mosquito-borne diseases, including dengue fever.
The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, commended Cape Verde's success, emphasizing the power of strategic public health planning, collaboration, and persistent efforts to safeguard and enhance health.
Dr. Tedros stated, “Cape Verde's success is the latest in the global fight against malaria, and gives us hope that with existing tools, as well as new ones, including vaccines, we can dare to dream of a malaria-free world. I salute the government and people of Cape Verde for their unwavering commitment and resilience in their journey to eliminating malaria.”
The certification has practical implications for Cape Verde. Travellers from non-malaria endemic regions can now visit the islands without fearing local malaria infections or the inconvenience of preventive treatments. This development is expected to attract more visitors, potentially boosting socio-economic activities in a country where tourism accounts for about 25% of GDP.
WHO certification of malaria elimination formally acknowledges a country's malaria-free status. It is granted when a country provides rigorous, credible evidence that indigenous malaria transmission by Anopheles mosquitoes has been interrupted nationwide for at least three consecutive years. The country must also demonstrate the capacity to prevent the re-establishment of transmission.
Cape Verde, an archipelago comprising 10 islands in the Central Atlantic Ocean, faced significant malaria challenges. Before the 1950s, malaria affected all islands, leading to severe epidemics in densely populated areas.
Targeted interventions, including insecticide spraying, successfully eliminated malaria in 1967 and 1983. However, lapses in vector control led to a resurgence of the disease. Since the late 1980s, malaria has been confined to two islands, Santiago and Boa Vista, both of which have been malaria-free since 2017.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, hailed Cape Verde's achievement as a beacon of hope. He emphasized that with strong political will, effective policies, community engagement, and multisectoral collaboration, malaria elimination is an achievable goal.