Global malaria cases surge by two million, but deaths decline

Global malaria cases surge by two million, but deaths decline
Malaria is spread mostly by female Anopheles mosquito.

The global tally of malaria cases shot up to 247 million in 2021, representing a two million increase in cases compared to 245 million in 2020 and a 15 million surge from 2019.

According to this year’s World malaria report, there were an estimated 619, 000 malaria deaths globally in 2021 compared to 625, 000 in the first year of the pandemic.

In 2019, before the pandemic struck, the number of deaths stood at 568 000.

The World Health Organization said malaria cases continued to rise between 2020 and 2021, but at a slower rate than in the period 2019 to 2020.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there is an increase in malaria cases and deaths in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the malaria-affected countries doubled their efforts and were able to mitigate the worst impacts of Covid-related disruptions to malaria services.

“We face many challenges, but there are many reasons for hope. By strengthening the response, understanding and mitigating the risks, building resilience and accelerating research, there is every reason to dream of a malaria-free future,” he added.

Insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) are the primary vector control tool used in most malaria-endemic countries and, in 2020, countries distributed more ITNs than in any year on record. In 2021, ITN distributions were strong overall and at similar levels to pre-pandemic years: of the 171 million ITNs planned for distribution, 128 million (75%) were distributed. 

“Eight countries (Benin, Eritrea, Indonesia, Nigeria, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Uganda and Vanuatu) distributed less than 60% of their ITNs, and seven countries (Botswana, Central African Republic, Chad, Haiti, India, Pakistan and Sierra Leone) did not distribute any ITNs.” 

“Seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) is recommended to prevent the disease among children living in areas with highly seasonal malaria transmission in Africa. In 2021, further expansion of this intervention reached nearly 45 million children per SMC cycle in 15 African countries, a major increase from 33.4 million in 2020 and 22.1 million in 2019” the statement added.

Statement further said that at the same time, most countries succeeded in maintaining malaria testing and treatment during the pandemic. Despite supply chain and logistical challenges during the pandemic, malaria-endemic countries distributed a record number of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) to health facilities in 2020. In 2021, countries distributed 223 million RDTs, a similar level reported before the pandemic.

Despite progress, the African region continues to be hardest hit by this deadly disease.

“Despite successes, our efforts face many challenges, particularly in the African Region, which shouldered about 95 per cent of cases and 96 per cent of deaths globally in 2021,” WHO noted.

“Despite progress, the African region continues to be hardest hit by this deadly disease,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“New tools—and the funding to deploy these—are urgently needed to help us defeat malaria.”

Total funding for malaria in 2021 was US$ 3.5 billion, an increase from the two previous years but well below the estimated US$ 7.3 billion required globally to stay on track to defeat malaria.