Although it’s preventable and treatable, malaria still kills more than 600,000 people worldwide each year. But the number of nations free of the disease is growing — and now officials have declared two more nations, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, as malaria-free.
The announcement brings the official count of malaria-free territories and nations to 42. The World Health Organization certified Azerbaijan and Tajikistan malaria-free at the end of March.
The certification comes after years of attempts to eliminate the disease in both nations, which are former republics of the Soviet Union.
Malaria is caused by parasites spread by mosquitoes, and the agricultural irrigation systems that fuel both countries’ cotton and rice production have historically put people at risk for the disease.
In an effort to tackle malaria in recent decades, public health officials in both countries have implemented insecticide and bed-net programs for homes, changed water management practices, and even introduced mosquito-eating fish to control insect larvae.
Both countries’ public health systems also contribute to malaria diagnosis and treatment, officials say.
Azerbaijan has not had a locally transmitted case of malaria since 2012, and Tajikistan’s most recent documented local case was in 2014, according to the WHO’s most recent world malaria report.
The agency officially recognizes nations as malaria-free only after they prove interruption of local transmission chains for at least three consecutive years or more and can show they have surveillance and response systems to detect and deal with transmission.
“The people and governments of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan have worked long and hard to eliminate malaria,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a news release. “Their accomplishment is further proof that, with the right resources and political commitment, eliminating malaria is possible. I hope that other countries can learn from their experience.”
Despite the increase in the list of malaria-free nations, the fight against the disease continues worldwide. The vast majority of both malaria cases and deaths occur in the WHO’s African region, which saw 95 percent of the world’s 247 million malaria cases and 96 percent of the world’s 619,000 malaria deaths in 2021. Bed nets, seasonal treatments and vaccination can all prevent the disease.