Covid-19 threatens international progress towards malaria: WHO

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The World Health Organization (WHO) urged nations and health partners to step up the fight against malaria by better targeting interventions, new tools and more resources.

Gaps in life-saving measures are undermining efforts to contain malaria amid fears the coronavirus pandemic could hold back the fight against the disease even further, according to the World Malaria Report released today. The situation is particularly worrying in high-pollution countries in Africa, reports UN News.

“It is time for leaders across Africa – and around the world – to rise again to the challenge of malaria, just as they did when they laid the foundation for the advances made since the beginning of this century.” said the WHO director. General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“By acting together and making a commitment not to leave anyone behind, we can achieve our shared vision of a world free from malaria.”

Although preventable and curable, malaria kills hundreds of thousands each year. Nearly half the world’s population is at risk from the disease, according to the WHO, and most cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Malaria is transmitted through the bites of female Anopheles mosquitoes, and controlling the vector – for example, by using mosquito nets and spraying interior debris – can help prevent and reduce the transmission of the disease.

A PLATEAU ‘IN PROGRESS’

The WHO report found that around 229 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2019, an annual estimate that has remained virtually unchanged over the past four years. The disease claimed approximately 409,000 lives last year, compared to 411,000 in 2018.

As in previous years, the African region accounted for more than 90 percent of the total disease burden. The region has made great strides since 2000, cutting the death toll from malaria by 44 percent – from an estimated 680,000 to 384,000 – but the pace has slowed in recent years, especially in countries with high disease burden.

Funding bottlenecks at both international and national levels pose a “significant threat” to future profits, according to the WHO. In 2019, total funding reached $ 3 billion, well below the global target of $ 5.6 billion . This has left critical gaps in access to proven malaria control tools.

EXPAND SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAMS

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged as an additional challenge for key health services worldwide. While most malaria prevention campaigns have progressed without major delays, the WHO expressed concerns that even “moderate disruption” in accessing treatment could result in significant loss of life.

For example, a 10 percent disruption of access to effective malaria treatment in sub-Saharan Africa could result in 19,000 additional deaths, while 25 to 50 percent disruption in the region could result in an additional 46,000 and 100,000 deaths, respectively.

Ensuring access to malaria prevention such as insecticide-treated nets and preventive medicines for children also helped the response to COVID-19 by reducing the number of malaria infections and easing the burden on health systems, WHO said.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, stressed the need to ensure that malaria programs are maintained and expanded.

“COVID-19 threatens to further undermine our efforts to overcome malaria, especially treating people with the disease. Despite the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on African economies, more international partners and countries need to do to make sure that the resources are available to expand the malaria programs that are transforming people’s lives, “she said.

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