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Geneva, 21 May 2013 (PAHO/WHO) -- The countries of Central America and Hispaniola have signed on to a joint initiative to eliminate malaria by the year 2025. The initiative was the focus of a special event held in parallel to this week's 66th World Health Assembly, taking place in Geneva on 20-28 May.

Organized by the ministers of health of Central America, the Dominican Republic and Haiti and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the event was held to discuss the new initiative and to prepare for a high-level meeting in June that is expected to produce a document detailing the actions needed to eliminate malaria in participating countries by the target date.

"We're hoping that mosquito nets will soon cease to exist in this region," said Costa Rica's minister of health, Daisy Corrales. She said funding for the plan could begin in 2014, for a period of three years, followed by an additional three years that could be financed by the Global Fund. The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) will provide technical support for the plan's implementation.

Of the 21 malaria-endemic countries in the Americas, 18 are expected to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing the number of cases by 75% between 2000 and 2015. Thirteen countries have already achieved the goal: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Suriname. Six countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua, are considered in the pre-elimination phase.

During the Geneva event, PAHO/WHO Representative in Guatemala Guadelupe Verdejo reconfirmed PAHO's commitment to the initiative and its implementation at the regional and country levels.

Nicaragua's delegation said the initiative was timely and urgently needed, particularly in view of global warming and its potential to increase the risk of malaria in areas where it has not previously been found.

The Dominican Republic's delegation noted the importance of including Haiti in the initiative. Because the two countries share the same island, "It's impossible to eliminate malaria in the Dominican Republic without also eliminating it in Haiti," said a Dominican delegate.

Minister of Health Maria Isabel Rodriguez of El Salvador acknowledged the important work of community volunteers in reducing malaria and expressed her support for the new initiative. Honduras's delegation highlighted the importance of a regional approach to the problem.

Silvio Martinelli, Global Fund regional manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the initiative comes at a critical moment. "The stars are aligned, there is political commitment, interest and an opportunity to reduce malaria cases," he said. "We are very enthusiastic about supporting you."

-World Malaria Report

-PAHO malaria program