Worldwide, there are more than 200 million cases of malaria a year and it is estimated that a child dies of malaria every two minutes. In Latin America, there are more than 500,000 cases of malaria each year. Transmitted person-to-person through the bite of an infected mosquito, malaria is considered one of the world’s most preventable killers.
“As with any mosquito-borne illness, malaria is preventable so long as municipalities work to create an environment that keeps mosquitos from reproducing and encouraging the use of repellents whenever possible,” said Carlos Espinal, director of the Global Health Consortium at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. “The key is simply to avoid being bitten, but for many communities that really means that they need to be further educated to understand the risks and how to take the proper precautions.”
As part of the Consortium’s mission of end the spread of vector-borne, or mosquito spread, diseases such as malaria, Espinal and Andria Rusk, research assistant professor with the Global Health Consortium, are collaborating with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) on the Municipalities for Zero Malaria’ initiative, part of the Malaria Champions of the Americas project.
“It is our responsibility to empower municipalities with the tools they need to protect their communities,” Rusk said. “The goal is to actively engage all communities that are affected by malaria so that we can eliminate the disease.”
This year, the three malaria champions selected were Puerto Lempira, Honduras; La Gomera, Guatemala; and São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Brazil.
“The ultimate awardee this year is Puerto Lempira. This municipality stood out among the other submissions because of their considerable progress in nearing to malaria elimination, showing a 98% reduction in P. Falciparum malaria cases and a 96% reduction in malaria cases overall,” Rusk continued. “The community also showed outstanding achievements in using micro stratification, georeferencing, community volunteers, sustained investment, and judicious use of technology in challenging environments.”
Espinal, who has served as a voting jury member of the Malaria Champions of the Americas since 2013, remarked that the progress in these municipalities is making a tremendous difference.
“Malaria in Latin America and the Caribbean remains a problem largely due to changes in population dynamics and immigration patterns, in part due to the economic crisis in Venezuela and other areas of unrest,” Espinal said. “By improving surveillance data and encouraging a ground-roots level approach to change, we are seeing an improvement that is saving lives.”