The World Health Organization (WHO) has certified Azerbaijan and Tajikistan as malaria-free for eliminating the Anopheles mosquito-borne disease in their territories.
The declaration came on March 29, 2023, after an extensive, century-long campaign by the two nations to eradicate the disease. The global health body certifies a country as malaria-free, typically when the latter can provide evidence showing the malaria transmission cycle has been broken for at least the last three years.
In Tajikistan and Azerbaijan, the last cases of regional spread of Plasmodium vivax malaria were discovered in 2012 and 2014, respectively. With the latest announcement, the WHO officially declared 41 countries and one territory, including 21 countries in the European Region, malaria-free.
“The people and governments of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan have worked long and hard to eliminate malaria,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press release.
Despite providing rigorous, credible evidence, a country must also demonstrate its capacity to prevent the re-establishment of transmission.
“Azerbaijan’s and Tajikistan’s achievement was possible thanks to sustained investment and the dedication of the health workforce, together with targeted prevention, early detection and treatment of all malaria cases. The WHO European Region is now two steps closer to becoming the first region in the world to be fully malaria-free,” said Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.
Through a variety of investments and public health initiatives, the governments of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan were better able to manage malaria over time. The countries have provided everyone with free basic healthcare for over 60 years, according to WHO.
They have actively backed targeted malaria interventions, such as spraying insecticides on interior walls of homes to prevent the disease, encouraging early diagnosis and treatment of all cases, and maintaining the abilities of all health professionals working to eradicate the disease.
“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,” Ghebreyesus added.
Both Azerbaijan and Tajikistan use national electronic malaria monitoring systems to establish whether an infection is indigenous or imported and provide real-time case data. They also employed biological larval control strategies, like mosquito-eating fish and water management practices to lessen malaria carriers.