Global report shows again that progress against malaria has slowed
Many low-burden countries are on their way to eliminating malaria, but progress has slowed in recent years and there has been no improvement in the rate of infections in the countries with the highest burden of the disease, according to the annual World Malaria Report.
Experts called for increased action to get back on track, especially to support of the two groups most at-risk: children and pregnant women.
“This year’s report continues, to some degree, the key findings that were reported over the last few years — progress has slowed down,” Pedro Alonso, MD, PhD, director of WHO’s Global Malaria Program, said during a news briefing. “We also recognize that on a global scale, there has been exceptional headway made in the last few years and this must be taken as a clear sign that progress is possible.”
According to the report, 49 malaria-endemic countries reported fewer than 10,000 cases of malaria in 2018 compared with 40 countries in 2010, and 27 countries reported fewer than 100 cases, up from 17 countries in 2010. Additionally, Algeria and Argentina were declared malaria-free, joining the 36 other countries that have achieved the milestone.
However, progress in reducing new infections has slowed, according to the report. There were an estimated 228 million cases in 2018 — and 405,000 deaths — compared with 231 million in 2017. The report showed that the global incidence of malaria fell from 71 cases per 1,000 population in 2010 to 57 cases per 1,000 population in 2014 and remained around that level through 2018.
According to the report, pregnant women and children in Africa carry the brunt of the burden. Overall, an estimated 11 million pregnant women in 38 sub-Saharan African countries were infected with malaria, accounting for 29% of all pregnancies. An estimated 872,000 children in these countries were born with low birth weight due to malaria in pregnancy. Children aged younger than 5 years accounted for 67% of global malaria deaths in 2018.
To help further protect pregnant women and children, WHO recommends that these at-risk populations sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets. According to the report, coverage of this intervention expanded, with an estimated 61% of children and 61% of pregnant women sleeping under a treated net in 2018, up from 26% in both groups in 2010.
The report notes that WHO recommends full courses of antimalarial medicine for children younger than age 5 years living in Africa’s Sahel subregion during the malaria season, and intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) in pregnant women in malaria-affected areas of sub-Saharan Africa. But just 72% of children were given the preventive therapy and 31% of pregnant women received the recommended three doses of IPTp. The report also found that a high proportion of febrile children (36%) do not receive any medical attention.
According to the report, several new tools and approaches for malaria and vector control have been submitted to WHO for evaluation, including new types of insecticide-treated nets, spatial mosquito repellants, vector traps and sugar baits. If these measures prove effective, WHO will formulate new policy recommendations.
Another key component in the fight against malaria would be a vaccine. In 2019, three African countries introduced the RTS,S (GlaxoSmithKline) malaria vaccine in a WHO-coordinated pilot program that aims to immunize around 360,000 children a year in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
The report revealed that in 2018, total funding for malaria control and elimination reached an estimated $2.7 billion, falling short of the $5 billion funding target.
“The report confirms that we already knew — it clearly tells us today that malaria is a disease of poverty and inequity. Despite the availability of effective lifesaving malaria interventions, unfortunately, too many of the world’s most vulnerable continue to face the greatest risk of dying,” Abdourahmane Diallo, MD, MPH, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, said during the briefing. “Overall, we need to accelerate and intensify what we’ve been doing up until now.” – by Caitlyn Stulpin
Disclosures: Alonso and Diallo report relevant financial disclosures.