By Former Representative Ander Crenshaw, R-Florida
In Florida, mosquitoes are an irritating part of everyday life. But they used to be deadly.
Thanks to U.S. leadership, malaria no longer is a daily threat to Floridians. But that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
In the past, the Americas were a leader in the global fight against this disease. But that’s changing. In fact, there’s been a recent spike in malaria cases in our region of the world.
I spent 16 years representing Floridians in Congress, where I served as the co-chair of the House Malaria Caucus. Until 2017, we were making great progress to stamp out this disease. However, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that progress to end the disease worldwide has stalled.
Venezuela’s crumbling economy has led to the collapse of its medical system, which in turn has caused new cases of malaria to skyrocket.
Even though malaria is a treatable, preventable disease, for Venezuelans it could be a death sentence.
Today, those infected with malaria inside the country have little chance of obtaining the necessary testing and treatment. As a result, many have turned to social media or the black market to solicit help.
While official numbers are hard to come by because of the lack of transparency from the Venezuelan government, experts estimate that malaria cases have risen tenfold since 2010. In 2017, there were 406,000 cases reported and 248 deaths — a 69 percent increase over the previous year.
With Nicolas Maduro’s government continuing to drive Venezuelans to the brink of starvation and desperation, the United Nations now estimates the number of people fleeing the country will reach 5.3 million in 2019.
This means that the increase in malaria cases in Venezuela will not stay in isolation. Malaria is not bound by national borders, and is now spreading into neighboring countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador.
Left unchecked, the threat from rising cases in Venezuela could reverse the progress experienced in the rest of the region.
While malaria is on the rise in certain countries in the Americas, it’s not all bad news.
We know its cause: parasites transmitted by mosquitoes. We know how to prevent it: cost-effective interventions such as insecticide-treated bed nets. We know how to treat it: antimalarials. And we know how to defeat it: by keeping our foot on the gas pedal.
In 2018, one Latin American country in Latin America — Paraguay — was certified malaria-free. Argentina is continuing on that same path. Additionally, since 2000 — the year when I was first elected to Congress — malaria deaths around the world have decreased by 60 percent, which saved 7 million lives.
Concerted efforts from the international community have eliminated malaria in many regions before, and we can do it again. Florida’s new congressional delegation must pledge to step up so a child doesn’t die every two minutes from a mosquito bite.
Step up U.S. funding for bilateral and multilateral programs, as well as UN agencies, that are on the ground distributing bed nets, tracking the spread of the disease and educating local communities on how to protect themselves from malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses.
Step up our opposition to governments that prevent aid from reaching the most vulnerable populations facing malaria.
And step up individual and political will to stop this preventable disease from taking more lives in the Americas and around the world.
The new members Florida’s congressional delegation will have to make some tough decisions on our nation’s budget. However, we have seen time and time again that investing in global health priorities yields immense returns and creates a more healthy and prosperous world. With a little investment we can stop the resurgence of malaria and stamp it out once and for all.
While doing the right thing in Venezuela, they also will be protecting Floridians’ health. Diseases like malaria remain problems without passports with an ability to reach anyone, anywhere.
Former Representative Ander Crenshaw, R-Florida, represented Florida’s 4th District in Congress from 2001-2017. He currently is an Arthur H. Vandenberg Distinguished Fellow at the United Nations Foundation, where he advises on foreign policy and national security challenges.