With human and financial resources deployed to fight the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that healthcare services are facing major disruption.
The results of a World Health Organization (WHO) report on malaria released this month (21 April) shows that about a third of countries around the world reported disruptions in malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the first quarter of 2021.
Despite this, seven countries — Algeria, Belize, Cape Verde, China, El Salvador, Iran, Malaysia, and Paraguay — succeeded in meeting the WHO's goal of malaria elimination by the end of last year.
How these countries were able to achieve the elimination milestone and what African leaders can learn from their experiences were some of the key questions addressed at a virtual forum on malaria elimination, co-hosted by the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and the WHO last week (21 April).
Key to their success, the forum heard, was a combination of political commitment, strong primary healthcare systems, and a robust data system.
Success is driven, first and foremost, by political commitment within a malaria-endemic country to end the disease and this commitment is translated into domestic funding that is often sustained over many decades, even after a country is malaria-free."
Pedro Alonso, Director, Global Malaria Programme, WHO
Common to all the countries that reached zero malaria cases were strong primary healthcare systems that ensured access to malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment services, without financial hardship, for everyone living within their borders, regardless of nationality or legal status.
It is clear that until all health services, including those targeting malaria, are provided free for all, regardless of nationality or legal status, it will be extremely difficult to stamp out malaria across Africa.
African leaders must borrow a leaf from Algeria and Cape Verde, where diagnosis and treatment were provided free of charge, not only for their citizens, in an effort to stem the tide of imported cases from mainland Africa.
These countries have shown that halting malaria is achievable. As Alonso put it: "For Algeria to eliminate malaria in the face of massive complexities, then achieving zero malaria worldwide is possible. If the extra 25 countries selected by WHO to achieve malaria elimination stage by 2025 can join in the celebration, it will be a massive source of inspiration for the rest of the high burden countries like Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo."
But we should not forget that retaining elimination could be more difficult and the certified malaria-free countries should not let their guards down. They should safeguard progress by focusing on sustaining vector control and strengthening malaria surveillance, especially at ports, airports and in their capital cities.