Washington, D.C., 30 September 2011 (PAHO/WHO) — Health officials from countries throughout the Americas have pledged new efforts to reduce the burden of malaria and to protect progress already made against the disease through a strategy and plan of action approved during the 51st Directing Council meeting of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

In 2009, the Americas reported a total of 564,451 confirmed cases of malaria and 118 deaths. The figures represent a 52% decline in cases and a 69% reduction in deaths since 2000. The improvements were the result of a series of strategies and programs carried out by ministries of health and international cooperation agencies within the framework of the Regional Strategic Plan for Malaria in the Americas 2006—2010.

Joint efforts by countries and collaborating institutions have helped 18 of the hemisphere's 21 malaria-endemic countries achieve international targets for reducing the burden of malaria. Nine countries reported reductions of more than 75%, thereby meeting the targets of both the Roll Back Malaria Partnership and the Millennium Development Goals.

Malaria experts say the continuing decline in cases and deaths makes it even more important to protect current achievements by preventing reintroduction of the disease, and to move toward malaria elimination in areas where it is feasible.

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, transmitted via mosquito bites. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver and then infect red blood cells. Symptoms include fever, headache and vomiting, and usually appear 10 to 15 days after the mosquito bite. If not treated, malaria can become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs. In many parts of the world, the parasites have developed resistance to a number of malaria medicines.

The regional plan of action approved this week calls on governments to step up efforts in malaria prevention, surveillance, early detection, and outbreak containment; to improve vector management; and to promote universal access to prompt, accurate, and quality malaria diagnosis followed by rapid treatment with effective antimalarial medicines.

The countries have committed to achieve the following targets by 2015:

  • A 75% reduction in malaria morbidity
  • A 25% reduction in malaria-related deaths
  • Implementation of malaria elimination activities in areas where elimination is feasible (particularly
  • Mesoamerica and the Southern Cone)
  • A reversal of the trend in those countries where malaria cases increased between 2000 and 2010 (particularly the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Venezuela)
  • Prevention of the reintroduction of malaria endemicity in countries already declared malaria-free.

To reach these targets, the strategy and plan of action prioritize the following areas of work:

  • Malaria prevention, surveillance, and early detection and containment of outbreaks
  • Integrated vector management
  • Malaria diagnosis and treatment
  • Advocacy, communication and collaborative partnerships
  • Health systems strengthening, strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, operations research, and country-level capacity-building.

The PAHO Directing Council is made up of the ministers of health of PAHO/WHO member countries and meets each year in Washington, D.C., to set health policies and establish priorities for PAHO's technical cooperation programs and public health collaboration.

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