The World Health Organization (WHO) has certified Belize as 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, WHO Director-General. “Belize is another example of how, with the right tools and the right approach, we can dream of a malaria-free future.”
With today’s announcement, a total of 42 countries and 1 territory have been certified as malaria-free by WHO, including 11 countries in the Region of the Americas.
“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 5 years,” said Dr Jarbas Barbosa, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director. “This is an extra-ordinary achievement for Belize, and will also serve as inspiration for the other endemic countries in the Americas.”
Effective investments in malaria control
Over the last 3 decades, Belize has achieved a dramatic reduction in its malaria burden – from a peak of about 10 000 cases in 1994 to zero indigenous cases in 2019. Belize’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 played a vital 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. Belize maintained malaria surveillance efforts during the COVID- 19 pandemic and made efforts to integrate malaria and COVID-19 surveillance systems.
Collaboration at country, regional and global levels
A long-standing partnership between the national malaria programme and the Belize Vector Ecology Center ensured entomological surveillance, which provided critical information on the distribution and density of malaria-carrying mosquitoes and their resistance to insecticides used in malaria control. Cross-border collaboration with neighboring Mexico and Guatemala has also been key to success.
Belize has participated in regional and subregional initiatives to keep malaria at the forefront of their public health agenda, such as Elimination of Malaria in Mesoamerica and the Island of Hispaniola, financially supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Regional Malaria Elimination Initiative, an initiative established by the Inter-American Development Bank with technical leadership from PAHO and the participation of the Council of Health Ministers of Central America.
With support from USAID, PAHO has provided technical cooperation throughout Belize’s anti-malaria campaign. This success in Belize contributes to PAHO’s Disease Elimination Initiative which aims to eliminate more than 30 communicable diseases, including malaria, in the Americas by 2030. Belize is also a member of the “E-2025” initiative – a group of countries identified by WHO as having the potential to eliminate malaria by 2025.
Belize is the third country to be awarded a malaria-free status in 2023, following the certifications of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan in March.
WHO malaria-free certification
Certification of malaria elimination is an official recognition by WHO of a country’s malaria-free status. The certification is granted when a country has shown – with rigorous, credible evidence – that the chain of indigenous malaria transmission by Anopheles mosquitoes has been interrupted nationwide for at least the past three consecutive years.
In addition, a national surveillance system capable of rapidly detecting and responding to any malaria cases must be operational, together with an effective programme to prevent re-establishment of the disease.
The final decision on awarding a malaria-free certification rests with the WHO Director-General, based on a recommendation by the independent Technical Advisory Group on Malaria Elimination and Certification.