Malaria still infects millions of people every year and kills more than 400,000 – mostly children in Africa – because the fight against the mosquito-borne disease has stalled, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
Funding for the global battle against malaria – which kills a child every two minutes – is broadly flat, the WHO warned, and because of continuing transmission via mosquitoes, half the world’s population remains at risk of contracting the disease.
The organisation called on donor nations and governments in countries affected by the disease to step up the fight.
“The world has shown that progress can be made,” the WHO’s malaria expert, Pedro Alonso, told reporters. He cited significant reductions in malaria cases and deaths since 2010 when case numbers fell from 239 million to 214 million in 2015, and deaths fell from 607,000 to approximately 500,000 in 2013.
“But progress has slowed down,” he said. “And we have stabilised at … an unacceptably high level.”
Cases in 2018 were down slightly – to 228 million from about 231 million in 2017 – and the number of deaths declined to 405,000 from 416,000 in 2017.
Of that 2018 number of deaths, an estimated 380,000 were from Africa; 25 percent of the total cases were from Nigeria alone.
The WHO’s report found that pregnant women and children in Africa continued to bear the brunt of the malaria epidemic.
An estimated 11 million pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa – 29 percent of all pregnancies – were infected with malaria in 2018, leading to nearly 900,000 children being born with low birth weight, putting their health further at risk.
More than a third of young children in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 also was still not sleeping under a mosquito net, which could protect them from the infection, the report found.
In November, Science Magazine reported that the first malaria vaccine was rolled out in Malawi, Ghana and Kenya.
The RBM Partnership to End Malaria advocacy group said the WHO report showed that global political commitment and investment have been critical to sustaining progress, and urged governments not to lose focus.
“In most parts of the world, a child who gets malaria today has a better chance of survival than at any other point in history.
“Yet, despite the availability of effective life-saving malaria interventions, too many vulnerable pregnant women and children still face the greatest risk of dying from a mosquito bite,” the group’s chair, Maha Taysir Barakat, said in a statement.