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A public health victory as Belize is now malaria-free

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 22, 2023

Amidst a world still struggling with the debilitating impacts of COVID-19, Belize offers a glimmer of hope in the area of public health. In an official joint press release from the Government of Belize and the World Health Organization (WHO), Belize has been certified as a Malaria-Free Country, marking a significant victory for the country’s healthcare sector.

The achievement, confirmed by both WHO and the PAHO Country Office, came after an extensive assessment and evaluation process in which Belize demonstrated zero indigenous cases of malaria for a continuous period of three years.

This makes Belize part of a select group of 11 countries in the Americas, and the second Central American country to have successfully eliminated the disease after 70 years of continuous efforts.

The disease, caused by an infected Anopheles mosquito bite, according to statistical numbers, has decreased over the last 25 years.

The country’s malaria elimination strategy included strengthening surveillance systems, improving diagnostic techniques, expanding access to effective antimalarial treatment, and promoting the use of insecticide-treated bed nets.

Vital to this strategy was a focus on community engagement and collaborations with local and international stakeholders, ensuring a strong coordinated response.

In the release, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, praised Belize’s efforts saying, “This is a remarkable achievement for Belize and a testament to the country’s unwavering commitment to public health. The successful elimination of malaria demonstrates that, with concerted efforts and collaboration, we can overcome public health challenges and create a healthier world for all.”

The Government of Belize recognized the importance of community engagement in this battle, collaborating with local and international stakeholders.

Hon. John Briceño, the Prime Minister of Belize, acknowledged the relentless dedication of all partners involved, in a statement: “This achievement is a testament to our government’s dedication to improving public health and the tireless work of our healthcare professionals,” he said. “We are grateful for the support we have received from the WHO, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Global Fund, and other partners in this journey.”

This accomplishment demonstrates hope for other countries struggling with malaria and other diseases that specific interventions can lead to the removal of disease.

The Minister of Health and Wellness of Belize, Hon. Kevin Bernard also spoke about the great achievement. “We pledge our commitment to ensure technical support and continuous financial resources to remain malaria free,” he said.

While the certification is a cause for celebration, the Belizean government and WHO recognize that continued vigilance and investment in disease surveillance, prevention, and control measures will continue to be important in maintaining a malaria-free nation, in preventing the re-introduction of the disease.

As Belize embraces its public health victory, it continues to battle other diseases, particularly the ongoing global battle against COVID-19.

At its most recent update on June 22, 2023, statistics in Belize reveal that since its commencement in July 2020, the nation has experienced over 70,000 confirmed cases, with 688 deaths on record. Many in the population have still not received vaccine doses.

However, drawing upon the lessons learned during its fight against malaria, Belize is determined to apply the same strategic and comprehensive approach to treat COVID-19. By applying a similarly comprehensive approach to COVID-19, the Belizean government, along with its international partners, hope to eliminate all COVID-19 cases and pave the way for a COVID-free Belize.