On this Malaria Day 2019, when African nations are at the focus of global attempts at eradication, one of the most tragic malaria epidemics exists in Venezuela.
Venezuela was the first nation in the world to be certified by the World Health Organization for eradicating malaria in its most populated areas, beating the United States and other developed countries to that milestone in 1961.
It was a huge accomplishment that helped pave Venezuela’s development as an oil power and fueled hopes that a model to stamp out malaria across the globe was at hand. Since then, the world has dedicated enormous amounts of time and money to beating back the disease, with deaths plummeting by 60% in places with malaria in recent years, according to the W.H.O.
But in Venezuela, the clock has been running backward.
Over the past few years, it all started at the gold mines. With the economy in tatters, at least 70,000 people from all walks of life have been streaming to the southern part of the country, said Jorge Moreno, a leading mosquito expert in Venezuela. As they hunt for gold in watery pits, the perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes that spread the disease, they are catching malaria by the tens of thousands.
Then, with the disease in their blood, they return home to towns and cities. But because of the economic collapse, there is often no medicine and little fumigation to prevent mosquitoes from biting them and passing malaria to others, sickening tens of thousands more people and leaving entire towns desperate for help.
The Chavez-Maduro regime went through 16 Health Ministers in 18 years. Then in 2015 they stopped releasing health data altogether. In 2017 Dr. Antonieta Caporale, Minister of Health, courageously released an alarming report detailing a terrifying increase of malaria and was fired immediately.
It is now estimated that 1 million people have been exposed to the virus, making Venezuela the nation with the fastest growing cases of malaria.
The Maduro regime continues to callously prevent all approaches to mitigate the crisis. In the name of national security, he is not allowing any solution to be introduced.
Venezuela has been here before. Back in the mid 1930’s malaria was the main public threat. 10,000 people died every year and a third of the population was sick. Fortunately, Dr. Arnoldo Gabaldón left a comfortable research position in the US returning home to battle the epidemic.
In 1935, the then dictator Gomez died and new possibilities emerged. The new president declared the malaria epidemic as a national emergency calling Dr. Gabaldon to return. By 1962 malaria was eradicated and no Venezuelan died of malaria. You can read the whole story here.
Today we have powerful new tools to mitigate the advance of malaria. Working with Interim President Juan Guaido, we recently met at a Stanford University conference on Venezuela Dr. Julio Castro, who leads the battle for health in Venezuela. Together with millions of Venezuelans Dr. Castro awaits for the day when malaria can be rolled back once again.