Belize is now the third country to be awarded a malaria-free status in 2023, following the certifications of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan in March.
This, after the World Health Organization (WHO) certified the Caribbean country as being malaria-free, following the country’s over 70 years of continued efforts to stamp out the disease.
“WHO congratulates the people and government of Belize and their network of global and local partners for this achievement”, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.
“Belize is another example of how, with the right tools and the right approach, we can dream of a malaria-free future,” he added.
With this new declaration, a total of 42 countries and one territory have been certified as malaria-free by the WHO, including 11 countries within the Americas.
Dr Jarbas Barbosa, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said: “Following the achievement of Paraguay, Argentina, and El Salvador, Belize today becomes the fourth country in the Americas and the second in Central America to be certified as free of malaria over the last five years. This is an extra-ordinary achievement for Belize, and will also serve as inspiration for the other endemic countries in the Americas.”
WHO reports that over the last 30 years, Belize has gone from a peak of about 10 000 cases in 1994 to zero indigenous cases in 2019. The organisation said that the country’s success has hinged on strong surveillance for malaria, access to diagnosis, and effective vector control methods including insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and indoor spraying of insecticides. Trained community health workers have also played a crucial role in timely diagnosis and treatment.
In 2015, Belize reoriented its malaria programme to place a greater focus on enhanced surveillance among high-risk populations, allowing for strategic targeting of interventions and available resources in priority areas.
The country maintained malaria surveillance efforts during the COVID- 19 pandemic and made efforts to integrate malaria and COVID-19 surveillance systems.
Just in April, Medical Officer of Health in Westmoreland, Dr. Marcia Graham cautioned Jamaicans with plans to travel to countries where malaria is endemic, to take steps to safeguard themselves.
“If you are planning to travel overseas, it’s always good for you to check if you need to get prophylaxis, that is [the] medication to prevent you [from] contracting malaria. We have tablets that can be used to protect against malaria,” she said.
Graham said that people preparing to travel to those countries should advise the health department “at least two weeks in advance” whether they plan to travel to any of these countries, so that preventative measures can be put in place.
Dr. Graham said that while Malaria is not endemic to Jamaica, adequate precaution must still be taken as the risk of importing the virus to the country exists as the “the mosquito that transmits it, the Anopheles, is here.”
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