In August 2017 the ‘Almost Impossible’ happened decades after the last of local malaria transmission stopped in Italy. NPR shared news from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that, “A 4-year-old girl has died of malaria in Italy, where the disease is thought to have been wiped out. Troubled health officials are looking for answers.” By coincidence, two children from an African nation were being treated for malaria in the same hospital where the deceased was being treated for diabetes. No epidemiological link could be found.
Unfortunately that has not stopped anti-immigrant politicians from using the incident to foster hatred. The political party of a “far-right extremist who wounded 6 African immigrants in a racially motivated shooting rampage in central Italy,” blamed the death of the child mentioned above “from malaria on migrants who ‘bring back to Europe’ once, eradicated illnesses.”
A new article in Malaria Journal reports that even though, “Malaria is no longer endemic in Italy since 1970 when the World Health Organization declared Italy malaria-free, … it is now the most commonly imported disease.” The study from Parma, Italy reports that, “Of the 288 patients with suspected malaria, 87 were positive by microscopy: 73 P. falciparum, 2 P. vivax, 8 P. ovale, 1 P. vivax/P. ovale, 1 P. malariae and 2 Plasmodium sp. All samples were positive by ICT except 6. ”
Malaria can travel with anyone who has been in an endemic area, whether migrant, tourist or business person. The likelihood of malaria re-establishing itself in currently non-endemic areas is low, but there is of course value in maintaining epidemiological and entomological surveillance world-wide in the current drive to eradicate the disease.
The identification of malaria anywhere in the world should be cause for concern and compassion, not hate and exclusion.