COVID contributed to 69,000 malaria deaths, doomsday situation averted :: Uganda Radionetwork

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Moderate disruptions in the provision of malaria services contributed to 14 million cases of malaria and 69,000 deaths, but 47,000 of the additional malaria deaths were due to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.

Disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a significant increase in malaria cases and deaths between 2019 and 2020, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) annual World Malaria Report released tonight.

The report shows that moderate disruptions in the provision of malaria services contributed to 14 million cases of malaria and 69,000 deaths. 47,000 of the additional malaria deaths were due to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic when countries imposed lockdowns that restricted people’s freedom of movement.

However, the doomsday scenario projected by the WHO did not materialize. At the beginning of the pandemic, the WHO had forecast a doubling of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa as a worst-case scenario. However, the analysis found that the death toll in the region is estimated to have increased by 12 percent between 2019 and 2020.

The report found that 1.7 billion cases and 10.6 million deaths were averted worldwide between 2000 and 2020. Most of the malaria cases (82 percent) and deaths (95 percent) averted in the past 20 years occurred in the WHO African Region. The report found that the WHO African Region caused approximately 95 percent of the world’s malaria cases in 2020 and 96 percent of the world’s malaria deaths in 2020.

A new, country-specific approach to malaria control in high-exposure countries began to gain momentum with the COVID-19 outbreak, and according to the 2020 analysis, the global incidence of malaria cases was around 40 percent and the global mortality rate was off plan for 2020 was off course by 42 percent.

Dr. Pedro Alonso, director of WHO’s global malaria program, said that thanks to urgent and intense efforts, the world has managed to avert the worst scenario of malaria deaths. He added, however, that global gains against malaria had already flattened before the emergence of COVID-19. “” We are not on the road to success, we are increasingly moving away from the 2020 milestones of the WHO global malaria strategy achieve, “said Dr. Alonso.

The report found that only 58 percent of countries completed their planned campaigns to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets in 2020, with most experiencing significant delays. By the end of 2020, 72 percent of all insecticide-treated mosquito nets earmarked for distribution had been distributed worldwide.

In 2020, of the 65 responding countries, 37 countries reported partial interruptions (5 to 50 percent) in malaria diagnosis and treatment services, and by 2021 15 countries reported partial interruptions (5 to 50 percent) and six countries reported severe disruptions.

This year’s World Malaria Report uses a new method to estimate malaria deaths worldwide. This resulted in a larger proportion (7.8 percent) of deaths in children under five years of age than previously assumed (4.8 percent).

At the global level, progress in the fight against malaria remains mixed. The report found that many countries with low disease burden are steadily moving towards the goal of malaria elimination. Two countries – El Salvador and China – were certified as malaria-free by the WHO in 2021. However, most countries with a high disease burden have suffered setbacks and are losing ground.

The global progress in the fight against malaria over the past two decades has been largely achieved through the massive expansion and use of WHO-recommended malaria tools for the prevention, detection and treatment of the disease. However, the latest data also shows that access to life-saving tools for people at risk of malaria is growing significantly, and sometimes greater.

The report warns that the situation will remain precarious, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Convergence of threats in the region adds an additional challenge to disease control efforts. These include Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea, armed conflict and floods. At the same time, the document reiterates that the pandemic is not over and the pace of economic recovery is uncertain. Without immediate and accelerated action, the key objectives of the WHO global technical strategy on malaria for 2030 will be missed and additional ground could be lost.

The objectives of the strategy include a 90 percent reduction in the global malaria incidence and mortality rate by 2030. The report reiterated that this will require new approaches and increased efforts, supported by new tools and better implementation of existing ones. This includes a greater emphasis on equitable and resilient health systems and data-driven strategies.

The report also recommended expanded use of the RTS, S-malaria vaccine recommended by the WHO in October. “The vaccine is workable, safe, has public health implications and is inexpensive,” said Dr. Alonso. “As we speak, GAVI is discussing opening a window for investment in this malaria vaccine,” he added.

The analysis also emphasized that increased investment is also essential. “Funding has flattened out,” warned Dr. Alonso. “We are about 50 percent below what we expected as a target for 2020”.

The report found that in 2020 a total of $ 3.3 billion was invested in malaria control and elimination worldwide. This was offset by $ 6.8 billion to meet the global malaria targets. Annual investment must more than triple by 2030 – to $ 10.3 billion a year, the report said.

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