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Malaria in Belize Soon to Be No More

An important milestone for Belize has been achieved: zero localized transmissions of the vector-borne disease in all of 2019 and 2020. This comes from as many as ten thousand cases recorded thirty years ago. Chief of Operations at the Vector Control Unit Kim Bautista explained how we got here.

Kim Bautista, Chief of Operations, Vector Unit:Over time, there was some significant success and the program went from a vertical malaria program into what it has evolved today as a vector control program which includes other vector borne diseases such as dengue and Zika and chikungunya and those diseases. In the 1990s we peaked at  over 10,000 malaria cases. I can recall that even towards the early 2000s I would say upwards of 70% of most villages in the north  for example had active malaria transmission so through the various interventions over the years and networking with volunteers and community health workers, we managed to put together some effective  spring campaigns, bed net distribution campaigns, mass treatment to affected areas, supervised treatment over recent years and I believe the sustained efforts, and the collaborative efforts, along with other partners including PAHO, recently the IDB, it has a load of school to keep the momentum going.”

If Belize is successful in keeping transmissions to zero in 2021, it will be only the second country in the region to achieve this status. Bautista spoke on the significance of this.

Dale McDougal, News Editor: “How is the vector control unit preparing, so that we can survive the rest of the year without any malaria cases I simultaneously keeping down, things like dangit chip B and Zika, in the context of COVID-19?

Kim Bautista, Chief of Operations, Vector Unit: “Yeah very good question. It is several factors that we’re looking at. One, I think on a whole we benefited from the lockdown that we had  as a result of the COVID-19 regulations. So the borders remained close and  the level of of illegal crossing went down to a very minimum level and I think that we kind of benefited quite a bit in terms of there’s less movement of persons, there’s also less migrant workers coming into let’s say the the agricultural industry,  the service industry in terms of tourism, and that’s where you tend to have the introduction of vector borne diseases through some of these sources. What we have done is we’ve looked at the situation and whereby the rainy season is approaching us. Eventually we’ll have to open up the borders at some point and so we have to have things set in place to prevent outbreaks of of these diseases that you mentioned. So actually what we’re doing is we’re being guided by the data from the from recent years and we taking a proactive approach in terms of visiting some of these localities that are with traditional hotspots, trying to engage with householders, doing or yard inspections, trying to get the message across that it’s  a shared responsibility and with the householders in terms of maintaining your yards, your containers and mosquito breeding sites whether it’s used tires, discarded, cans, bottles and these things receptacles that would hold water. So from the other perspective we need to ensure that we’re engaged with the different localities that are in high risk.

He also added the government-mandated lockdowns this year and last have helped in this effort. Eradicating malaria is part of the Global Technical Strategy for Malaria, which seeks to have all countries accelerate efforts towards elimination.