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Malaria cases rise despite prevention efforts – WHO

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The World Health Organization has delivered a sobering message: despite progress in expanding access to malaria prevention tools, the number of people falling sick with the disease is climbing.

In its 2023 World Malaria Report, released during the UN climate change conference, WHO paints a worrying picture. 

Global malaria cases reached 249 million in 2022, up from 247 million in 2021 and surpassing the pre-pandemic level of 233 million in 2016.

“This alarming rise is primarily due to several factors,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “COVID-19 disruptions, humanitarian crises, drug and insecticide resistance, and the growing impact of global warming are all playing a part.”

Climate change, in particular, poses a significant threat, especially in vulnerable regions. “Rising temperatures, humidity, and rainfall create ideal conditions for the Anopheles mosquito, the malaria vector, to thrive,” the report explains. “Extreme weather events like floods further disrupt control efforts and exacerbate transmission.”

Pakistan, for instance, witnessed a fivefold increase in malaria cases after the devastating 2022 floods. Ethiopia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Uganda also reported substantial jumps.

Beyond immediate disruptions, climate variability can indirectly affect malaria trends. Reduced access to healthcare, disrupted supply chains for critical tools like insecticide-treated nets, and climate-induced population displacement all contribute to the burden.

While acknowledging the looming climate threat, WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti cautioned against neglecting other challenges. “Limited healthcare access, ongoing conflicts, lingering COVID-19 impacts, inadequate funding, and uneven implementation of interventions are equally critical,” she emphasized.

Despite the grim outlook, the report highlights some bright spots. The phased rollout of the first WHO-recommended malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01, in three African countries has shown promising results. In areas where the vaccine is used, severe malaria cases have dropped significantly, and early childhood deaths from all causes have decreased by 13%.

WHO now calls for a “substantial pivot” in the fight against malaria. Increased funding, strengthened political commitment, data-driven strategies, and innovation focused on more efficient, effective, and affordable tools are essential.

“Climate change adds urgency to the need for sustainable and resilient responses,” WHO stressed. “Building whole-of-society engagement and integrated approaches will be crucial to turn the tide against malaria and secure a malaria-free future.”

 

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