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By: Emile Dawisha

Malaria-free for three years, Belize is winning the fight against a once-widespread disease

October 21, 2022
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Famous for its barrier reef, rainforests, and vibrant ethnic diversity, Belize may soon earn a new distinction: The Central American country is close to receiving its malaria-free certification from the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s been three years since Belize last reported a nonimported case of malaria, a disease that was once endemic throughout the country.A century ago, it was estimated that malaria caused more than 10% of all deaths in Belize (known as British Honduras at the time). But from 1950-2000, nationwide efforts – particularly indoor spraying campaigns – helped drive down Belize’s malaria burden to <2,000 annual cases.

This century, the vast majority of cases have occurred in rural areas “with relatively large indigenous and migratory populations.” Belize’s government – with support from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and partner NGO’s – have prioritized these high-risk communities and collaborated across borders, sectors, and ethno-cultural groups to reach and maintain zero malaria cases. Belize’s comprehensive elimination strategy includes:

  • Training and equipping local health workers and volunteers, who lead elimination efforts in their community;
  • Expanding coverage of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, and community education initiatives that raise public awareness about malaria;
  • Increasing access to rapid diagnostic tests and anti-malarial drugs, ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of every malaria case;
  • Strengthening malaria surveillance efforts, both in terms of tracking human infection and identifying vector breeding sites;
  • Cross-border collaboration with Mexico and Guatemala to track, test, and treat malaria cases within mobile and migrant populations;
  • Collaboration with key industries, notably agriculture and tourism, to ensure these sectors are taking steps to reduce rather than produce malaria.

Check out this video to learn more about how Belize achieve zero malaria cases.

Over the years, regional and global partners have supported Belize’s elimination efforts. PAHO, a longtime technical partner, has helped the Belize government build its capacity for prompt malaria diagnosis, surveillance, and case management. The Global Fund, USAID, and Inter-American Development Bank are among a host of funders who’ve made key investments in regional elimination efforts that include Belize.

United to Beat Malaria has supported malaria elimination efforts in Belize across the Americas region by filling commodity shortages, such as bed nets, diagnostics, and treatments. We also helped cover shipping costs, which surged during the pandemic.

Check out this and other stories in the latest issue of The Monthly!

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