The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted malaria services, leading to an increase in cases and deaths, new data from the World Health Organisation revealed.
According to the annual malaria report, there were an estimated 241 million malaria cases and 627,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020; most of them babies compared with 558,000 in 2019. This represents about 14 million more cases in 2020 compared to 2019 and 69,000 more deaths.
The number eclipses the 224,000 people reported to have died from the coronavirus in Africa since the start of the pandemic.
Approximately two-thirds of these additional deaths (47,000) were linked to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.
“In this year’s World Malaria Report, we recognise that neither in terms of reduction of deaths or reduction of cases are we making any further progress. We have stalled. ……. I think we are on the verge of a potential malaria crisis. Not only are we getting closer to elimination or eradication globally, but also the problem becoming worse in a substantial number of parts of Africa. This calls for a renewed sense of purpose of action, of addressing what is far from being an unfinished agenda. It is still a massive global health problem that needs to be tackled with decisiveness and having countries, the endemic countries themselves leading the charge…,”Director for Global Malaria Programme, World Health Organisation, Dr. Pedro Alonso explained.
Sub-Saharan Africa did not see the doubling of malaria deaths in 2020 that the WHO had warned was a possibility, because efforts were made to maintain health services.
Instead, the number of deaths in the region rose 12% compared with 2019, according to WHO data.
“Thanks to urgent and strenuous efforts we can claim that the world has succeeded in averting the worst-case scenario of malaria deaths,” said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO’s global malaria programme.
As part of interventions to reduce the infection rate, the WHO earlier this year recommended a first-generation malaria vaccine; RTS,S – or Mosquirix – a vaccine developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline to be deployed broadly to children living in areas of moderate to high transmission.
Experts hope WHO’s recommendation in October might gain considerable ground in the fight against malaria.
“….The significance of these two announcements, first, the WHO recommendation, secondly, the Gavi endorsement is, I believe, truly historical. We need new tools. With the tools we have right now we can save lives and we have saved lives, but we cannot imagine that we will go on making the type of progress that is needed. We need also technological tools. We need new vaccines. We need new medicines. And the fact that for the first time, a malaria vaccine can join the other tools that we have to more effectively fight malaria to reduce what we estimate, an extra 40 to 8,0000 deaths of African children every year is a scientific and public health breakthrough, Dr. Pedro Alonso said
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about 95% of all malaria cases and 96% of all deaths in 2020.