WHO: Venezuela malaria cases jump by 69 percent

World Health Organization expresses concern over the rise of the mosquito-borne disease in Venezuela and Latin America.

    Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes [Jim Young/Reuters]
    Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes [Jim Young/Reuters]

    Health experts have warned that malaria cases in Venezuela jumped by an estimated 69 percent last year, expressing concern over the spread of the disease in the crisis-hit country and other parts of Latin America.

    The figure was released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday, on the eve of World Malaria Day.

    According to the UN health agency's estimates, cases of malaria in Venezuela rose from to 240,613 in 2016 to 406,000 in 2017.

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    The current figures are around five times higher than the 2013 ones for the mosquito-borne disease.

    "What we are now seeing is a massive increase, probably reaching close to half a million cases per year," Pedro Alonso, director of WHO's global malaria programme, told reporters on Tuesday. 

    "These are the largest increases reported anywhere in the world," he added, blaming a lack of resources and ineffective anti-malaria campaigns.

    Venezuelan migrants fleeing the economic and social crisis are carrying the mosquito-borne disease into Brazil and other parts of Latin America, WHO said, urging authorities to provide free screening and treatment regardless of their legal status to avoid further spread.

    "In the Americas, it's not just Venezuela. We're actually reporting increases in a number of other countries," said Alonso.

    "Venezuela, yes this is a significant concern, malaria is increasing and it's increasing in a very worrying way."

    The Venezuelan government's organisation overseeing healthcare in the country, El Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Salud, refused to comment on the matter when approached by Al Jazeera.

    Beyond Venezuela

    The socioeconomic and political crisis in Venezuela has reportedly resulted in 85 percent shortages of medicines, hyperinflation, poor hospital conditions and migrations abroad - as medical professionals leave the country.

    According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, around 660,000 Venezuelans reside in neighbouring Colombia, while 100,000 others have reportedly entered northern Peru.

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    On the Brazilian border in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima state, around 10 percent of the 450,000 residents are reportedly Venezuelan.

    "We are seeing indeed because of population movement, cases among Venezuelan migrants appearing in other countries - Brazil certainly. But also in Colombia, in Ecuador and in a number of other places," said Alonso.

    WHO said they are working alongside both Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and Venezuelan authorities to remedy the situation.

    The UN has advocated that authorities provide free screening and treatment to stop the spread further, irrespective of the legal status of the migrant.

    "What this calls for is renewed effort by the countries surrounding Venezuela to ensure adequate diagnosis and treatment free for whoever shows up at medical services," said Alonso.

    Venezuela was the first country to have eradicated malaria in 1961 by the WHO - ahead of the US and other developed nations.

    In 2016, malaria killed 445,000 people across 91 countries - 90 percent of deaths occur in Africa according to the WHO.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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