High burden to high impact: A targeted malaria response

Since the turn of the century, the global fight against malaria has been marked by a steady series of advances resulting in millions of cases averted and millions of lives saved. The effort represents one of public health’s greatest triumphs: mortality caused by the disease plummeted by nearly 60%.

But that downward trend has come to an end. In 2017, WHO reported that the number of malaria cases had leveled off. Now, for a second consecutive year, the battle – on a global scale – has failed to make new gains; and in some places, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, it has lost ground.

According to the World malaria report 2018, there were 219 million cases of the disease in 2017, compared to 217 million the year before. Of particular concern is the report’s finding that, among the 10 highest burden African countries, there were 3.5 million more cases in 2017 over the previous year (See Graph “Malaria cases in the 10 highest burden countries in Africa, 2010–2017”).

“This is a massive wake-up call that has refocused attention on the countries hardest hit by malaria,” says Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. The numbers, he notes, underscore the need for an immediate change in approach against a disease that is both preventable and curable.

Every two minutes, a child dies of malaria. In 2017, the estimated global tally of malaria deaths stood at 435 000, a similar number to the previous year. Beyond loss of life, the damage inflicted by malaria runs deep.

“Malaria disproportionately affects vulnerable groups, including women and children, particularly from the poorest households,” says Dr Winnie MpanjuShumbusho, Board Chair of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria. “The high burden of malaria often means that farmers stay off their fields, children miss school, workers stay at home or spend much time and resources going to clinics,” she adds.

To read more, visit https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/275868/WHO-CDS-GMP-2018.25-eng.pdf?ua=1 .

Katie Martin