WHO Calls for Reinvigorated Action To Fight Malaria

Ian MatthewsNews

The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on countries and global health partners to step up the fight against malaria, a preventable and treatable disease that continues to claim hundreds of thousands of lives each year. Better targeting of interventions, new tools and increased funding are needed to change the global trajectory of the disease and reach internationally-agreed targets.

According to WHO‘s recently-released World Malaria Report 2020progress against malaria continues to plateau, particularly in high burden countries in Africa. Gaps in access to life-saving tools are undermining global efforts to curb the disease, and the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to set back the fight even further. The report confirmed that in 2019, 409,000 people died from malaria and there were 229 million malaria cases globally.

“It is time for leaders across Africa – and the world – to rise once again to the challenge of malaria, just as they did when they laid the foundation for the progress [that has been] made since the beginning of this century,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Through joint action, and a commitment to leaving no one behind, we can achieve our shared vision of a world free of malaria.”

In 2000, African leaders signed the landmark Abuja Declaration pledging to reduce malaria deaths on the continent by 50% over a 10-year period. Robust political commitment, together with innovations in new tools and a steep increase in funding, catalyzed an unprecedented period of success in global malaria control. According to the report, 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million deaths have been averted since 2000.

The added challenge of COVID-19 

In 2020, COVID-19 emerged as an additional challenge to the provision of essential health services worldwide. The World Malaria Report found that most malaria prevention campaigns were able to move forward this year with only minor delays. Ensuring access to malaria prevention tools – such as insecticide-treated nets and preventive medicines for children – has supported the COVID-19 response strategy by reducing the number of malaria infections and, in turn, easing the strain on health systems. 

However, WHO is concerned that even these moderate disruptions in access to malaria treatment could lead to a considerable loss of life. WHO estimates that a 10% disruption in access to effective antimalarial treatment in sub-Saharan Africa could lead to 19,000 additional deaths, while disruptions of 25% to 50% in the region could result in an additional 46,000-100,000 deaths.

“While Africa has shown the world what can be achieved if we stand together to end malaria as a public health threat, progress has stalled,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “COVID-19 threatens to further derail our efforts to overcome malaria, particularly treating people with the disease. Despite the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on African economies, international partners and countries need to do more to ensure that the resources are there to expand malaria programs which are making such a difference in people’s lives.”

The 2020 World Malaria Report shows that now is not the time to step away from the fight against malaria. With over 400,000 malaria deaths reported in 2019, predominantly among children under five across Sub-Saharan Africa, now is the time to step up our efforts. We must maintain and build on the work that has saved 7.6 million lives and seen malaria mortality drop by 60% over the last two decades.

Ian MatthewsWHO Calls for Reinvigorated Action To Fight Malaria