As many as 21 countries, including six in the African region and four of India's neighbours - - Bhutan, China, Nepal and Malaysia, could be free of malaria by 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated in a report published on Monday to mark World Malaria Day.
One of the goals of WHO's 2016 - 2030 programme against malaria is to eliminate the disease in at least 10 countries by 2020.
To meet this target, a country must achieve at least one year of zero indigenous cases by 2020.
"The 'Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016 - 2030', approved by the World Health Assembly in 2015, calls for the elimination of local transmission of malaria in at least 10 countries by 2020, " the Geneva - based organisation said in a statement.
"WHO estimates that 21 countries are in a position to achieve this goal, including six countries in the African Region, where the burden of the disease is heaviest, " the statement added.
"Our report shines a spotlight on countries that are well on their way to eliminating malaria, " said Pedro Alonso, director, WHO Global Malaria Programme.
According to the WHO analysis presented in the report, these 21 countries are: Algeria, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Cabo Verde, China, Comoros, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Paraguay, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Suriname, Swaziland and Timor - Leste.
"WHO commends these countries while also highlighting the urgent need for greater investment in settings with high rates of malaria transmission, particularly in Africa. Saving lives must be our first priority, " Alonso noted.
Since the year 2000, malaria mortality rates have declined by 60 percent globally, the report pointed out.
But reaching the next level - - elimination - - will not be easy, it added.
Nearly half of the world's population, 3. 2 billion people, remain at risk of malaria. Last year alone, 214 million new cases of the disease were reported in 95 countries and more than 400 000 people died of malaria, the report said
To make the world free of the disease, "new technologies must go hand in hand with strong political and financial commitment, " Alonso added.
Reaching the goals of the "Global Technical Strategy" will require a steep increase in global and domestic funding from $2. 5 billion today to an estimated $8. 7 billion annually by 2030, the report noted.
- - IANS