Global malaria gains are threatened by access gaps, Covid-19 and funding shortfalls, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in its latest World Malaria report.

The report noted that progress against malaria continues to grow, particularly in high burden countries in Africa.

African leaders had in 2000 signed the landmark Abuja Declaration pledging to reduce malaria deaths in Africa by 50 percent over a ten-year period.

According to the report, 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million deaths have been averted since 2000.

But gaps in access to lifesaving tools, the WHO report noted, are undermining global efforts to curb the disease, and the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to set back the fight even further.

‘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 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’.

WHO says it is concerned that even moderate disruptions in access to treatment could lead to a considerable loss of life.

The report showed that a ten percent disruption in access to effective antimalarial treatment in sub-Saharan Africa could lead to 19,000 additional deaths and a disruption of 25 percent and 50 percent in the region could result in an additional 46,000 and 100,000 deaths, respectively.

‘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’, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said.

‘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 programmes which are making such a difference in people’s lives’.

Using Nigeria as a case study, it was found that through an optimised mix of interventions, the country could avert tens of millions of additional cases and thousands of additional deaths by the year 2023, compared to a business-as-usual approach.

‘High burden to high impact’ (HBHI) response is a key strategy developed to reignite progress in the anti-malaria fight.

The response, developed in 2018 by WHO and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, is led by 11 countries – including ten in sub-Saharan Africa – that account for approximately 70 percent of the world’s malaria burden.

While it is too early to measure the impact of the HBHI approach, the report finds that deaths in the 11 countries were reduced from 263,000 to 226,000 between 2018 and 2019.

The report showed 21 countries that have eliminated malaria over the last two decades and 1ten countries were officially certified as malaria-free by WHO.

But many countries with a high burden of malaria have been losing ground.  According to WHO global projections, the 2020 target for reductions in malaria case incidence will be missed by 37 percent, and the mortality reduction target will be missed by 22 percent.

The global health body is, therefore, calling on countries and global health partners to step up the fight against malaria.

It said a better targeting of interventions, new tools and increased funding are needed to change the global trajectory of the disease and reach internationally-agreed targets.

Source: WHO

Photo source: Radio Okapi

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