Patty Sanchez Bao
Senior Officer for Global Health, United Nations Foundation
On February 25, 2021, El Salvador marked a major milestone in its decades-long fight against malaria, becoming the first Central American country to be certified malaria-free.
El Salvador is the third country in the Americas to be certified malaria-free in the past four years, following Paraguay in June 2018 and Argentina in May 2019. Certification of elimination is granted by the World Health Organization when a country has recorded zero malaria cases transmitted in-country for three consecutive years.
El Salvador’s success against malaria is a testament to the power of collective action and offers inspiration and important lessons for other countries on the path to zero malaria. Strong surveillance systems and community-based care – including a network of more than 5,000 dedicated community volunteers and vector control staff – allowed for every case of malaria to be rapidly identified and treated whilst also helping protect against the added strain of COVID-19 on the health system.
Additionally, collaboration across sectors contributed to the sustainability and resilience of El Salvador’s health programs and ultimately accelerated their progress towards ending malaria. Lastly, cross-border and regional cooperation were essential for El Salvador to align strategies and share lessons learned in the region’s unified fight to end malaria for good.
The world is at a crossroads. We’ve made incredible progress in the fight to end malaria, but that progress is fragile.
Societal benefits of fighting malaria
Fighting malaria is a smart investment to strengthen health systems, protect people’s health, and foster economic growth and security. Reducing malaria prioritises the poorest, lowers health care costs and protects household income from lost earnings and the costs of seeking care. Without malaria, healthy children can attend school, learn, and grow and their parents can work and care for their families.
The world is at a crossroads. We’ve made incredible progress in the fight to end malaria, but that progress is fragile. More countries than ever are on a path to elimination, yet nearly half of the global population is still at risk of contracting malaria.
Now more than ever, reaching malaria-free status is a critically important public health and development goal. No one should die from a preventable, treatable disease. El Salvador’s journey demonstrates that with sustained political will and funding, malaria elimination is possible.