Malaria in Southern Venezuela: The hottest hotspot in Latin America.


Malaria elimination in Latin America is becoming an elusive goal. Malaria cases reached a historical ~1 million in 2017 and 2018, with Venezuela contributing 53% and 51% of those cases, respectively. Historically, malaria incidence in southern Venezuela has accounted for most of the country's total number of cases. The efficient deployment of disease prevention measures and prediction of disease spread to new regions requires an in-depth understanding of spatial heterogeneity on malaria transmission dynamics. Herein, we characterized the spatial epidemiology of malaria in southern Venezuela from 2007 through 2017 and described the extent to which malaria distribution has changed country-wide over the recent years. We found that disease transmission was focal and more prevalent in the southeast region of southern Venezuela where two persistent hotspots of Plasmodium vivax (76%) and P. falciparum (18%) accounted for ~60% of the total number of cases. Such hotspots are linked to deforestation as a consequence of illegal gold mining activities. Incidence has increased nearly tenfold over the last decade, showing an explosive epidemic growth due to a significant lack of disease control programs. Our findings highlight the importance of spatially oriented interventions to contain the ongoing malaria epidemic in Venezuela. This work also provides baseline epidemiological data to assess cross-border malaria dynamics and advocates for innovative control efforts in the Latin American region.

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