Algeria rids itself of malaria

Published online 23 May 2019

The malaria parasite, first discovered in Algeria in 1880, has not been transmitted in the country for three years.

Sedeer el-Showk

The malaria parasite is usually transmitted through the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito.
The malaria parasite is usually transmitted through the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito.
CDC/ James Gathany
The World Health Organization has certified Algeria as malaria-free. The parasite has not been transmitted in the country during the past three years and a robust national surveillance system is in place to detect and respond to new cases.

“Algeria is where the malaria parasite was first discovered in humans almost 150 years ago,” says Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa. “Now, Algeria has shown the rest of Africa that malaria can be beaten through leadership, bold action, sound investment and science. The rest of the continent can learn from this experience.”

In the 1960s, malaria was the country’s primary health challenge, with approximately 80,000 cases reported annually. In response, Algeria invested in training healthcare workers, providing malaria diagnosis and treatment through universal free healthcare, and developing a rapid response framework. This eliminated indigenous malaria in the northern provinces in 1993 so efforts could focus on the south, where migration from neighbouring, malaria-endemic countries was thwarting progress. Over the past decade, improved surveillance has allowed every case of malaria to be rapidly identified and treated.

While the WHO has served as an important technical partner, Algeria funded its malaria elimination through domestic financing. The success of the programme relieves the country of a significant public health burden and may also lead to increased tourism, particularly in the southern provinces.

“Algerian clinicians have played a very important role in the fight against malaria. They continue to maintain a high level of awareness, ensuring early diagnosis, appropriate case investigation, treatment and reporting of suspected cases,” says Akpaka Kalu, a malaria expert at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, adding that this should be sustained to prevent reestablishment of the disease.

“Any country that hopes to become malaria-free must assure universal health coverage through primary healthcare, enhance domestic financing for malaria elimination, and implement WHO recommended norms and standards,” says Kalu.

According to Kalu, the porous and expansive borders of North African countries pose a significant challenge to malaria elimination, but building the capacity to quickly diagnose and treat imported cases, together with effective strategies to control local disease vectors, would enable other countries in the region to emulate Algeria’s success.