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More than 20 countries could be malaria-free by 2020

Twenty-one countries, including six African nations hit hard by the disease, have the potential to be malaria-free by 2020. Last year 400,000 people died from the mosquito-borne disease.

One of the World Health Organization's (WHO) 2016-2030 program goals is to eliminate malaria transmission in at least 10 countries within the next four years, a prospect the UN health body said Monday was achievable.

"WHO estimates that 21 countries are in a position to achieve this goal, including 6 countries in the African Region, where the burden of the disease is heaviest," the UN's health body said in a statement on Monday marking World Malaria Day.

The African countries where malaria could be eliminated are Algeria, Botswana, Cape Verde, Comoros, South Africa and Swaziland. Since 2000, malaria mortality rates in Africa have fallen by 66 percent.

In Asia, China, Malaysia and South Korea could eliminate malaria by 2020. In Latin America, Costa Rica, Belize, El Salvador, Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, Ecuador and Suriname could also reach the goal. Other countries include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Timor-Leste and Nepal.

In 2015, WHO declared that Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus had eradicated malaria.

About 3.2 billion people, or nearly half the world's population, are at risk of contracting malaria. Last year, 214 million new cases of the disease were reported in 95 countries,

killing more than 400,000 people.

The disease can recur periodically in victims after first exposure.

WHO warned that

tools used over the past decades to battle malaria

will be more difficult to use to completely eliminate the disease. Among the complications is that some malaria parasites have developed resistance to antimalarial drugs.

Developing a malaria vaccine would be a "game-changer," WHO said on Sunday to mark

World Immunization Week.

Last year, the European Medicines Agency for the first time made a positive scientific assessment of a malaria vaccine. WHO recommended in January large-scale pilot projects be implemented in Africa with a view towards implementing a possible continent-wide vaccination campaign in the future.

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