Malaria’s deadly toll, greatest on African children, heightens urgency to do more to end the preventable disease
Geneva, 6 December 2021 - The RBM Partnership to End Malaria is calling for urgent action in response to new findings showing that malaria kills more children than previously estimated. This is coupled with a rise in malaria infections and deaths in 2020, mostly due to the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Using a new methodology that analyses the causes of death for children under the age of five across all diseases*, the World Malaria Report 2021, published today by the World Health Organization (WHO)* increased estimates of malaria’s global impact from 2000-2020.
The estimates confirm that, since 2000, global efforts reduced malaria death rates by half and saved 10.6 million lives. However, 627,000 people still died from this preventable and treatable disease in 2020, with the African continent accounting for 96% of global malaria deaths. The report also verified the pandemic’s impact for the first time, confirming that collaborative efforts by countries and partners averted a worst-case scenario of a potential doubling of malaria deaths last year.
Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria comments:
“This year’s World Malaria Report shines new light on the heavy toll malaria continues to have on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, particularly children in Africa. Furthermore, this unacceptable reality is contributing to overburdening health systems and impeding economic growth. As the pandemic persists, it’s clear that malaria investments must be at the heart of strengthening health systems and the COVID-19 response.
“The recent malaria vaccine funding decision by Gavi is the first major investment in a new tool that can help save more lives from malaria, at a time when COVID-19 and other humanitarian crises are making the fight against this deadly disease even more challenging.
“We are now at a critical juncture, and I urge global leaders for renewed commitment and investment. With increased funding, access to life-saving tools, and robust innovation in new tools to stay ahead of the evolving mosquito and parasite, we can accelerate transformative action and end malaria within a generation. The time to act is now.”
Long-term investments in fighting malaria enabled countries to be more resilient in their COVID-19 responses, while heroic efforts by countries, partners and community health workers using innovative strategies, strong political will and mobilizing new funding were all crucial to avoiding the worst-case scenario.
Despite the challenges, countries and partners ensured that 72% of life-saving insecticide-treated net distribution programmes went ahead in 2020. Over 33 million children were also reached with seasonal malaria chemoprevention, more than ever before. However, the findings suggest that COVID-related disruptions contributed to an increase of 69,000 more malaria deaths and 14 million more malaria cases in 2020 compared to 2019.
The RBM Partnership to End Malaria calls on all countries to significantly step up malaria investments to enhance malaria programmes and the use of real-time data and surveillance tools, while accelerating the development and delivery of transformative tools. This critical investment will help strengthen countries’ pandemic preparedness, protect gains made against malaria and reach global targets for elimination – and ultimately, eradication.
Accelerating a robust and game-changing malaria innovation pipeline
Malaria is unforgiving and the fight against this disease is at a precarious juncture. Growing populations mean there are more people at risk of malaria, especially those living in remote and rural communities, who need to be reached with life-saving interventions. Moreover, COVID-19 and humanitarian emergencies threaten access to, and require innovations in, the delivery of malaria interventions.
Now, years of research and development have created the most robust malaria innovation pipeline in history that aims to tackle these emerging challenges and deliver more effective, longer-duration prevention and treatment tools that benefit all ages. This includes vaccines, with the first-ever WHO-approved vaccine for malaria, RTS,S/ASO1, recently receiving funding approval from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for rollout among children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Improved vector control such as next-generation mosquito nets and gene drive technologies, antimalarials and higher sensitivity rapid diagnostic tests are also required, while countries’ adoption of real-time data and sophisticated surveillance approaches are needed to better tailor the malaria response at the sub-national level. In addition, effective community case management and surveillance and improving access to existing tools are critical components to tackling these emerging challenges and accelerating malaria elimination.
Global partnership advancing progress against malaria
Since 2000, global partnership has halved malaria death rates, prevented 1.7 billion malaria cases and saved 10.6 million lives. A growing number of countries have also advanced towards elimination, with 23 countries achieving 3 consecutive years of zero malaria cases since 2000 and the WHO South-East Asia region achieving global malaria elimination targets of a 40% reduction in cases and deaths by 2020 over 2015 rates.
However, pandemic-related disruptions, extreme weather events such as floods, population growth, growing instances of urban malaria and emerging resistance to insecticides and antimalarial treatments in malaria-affected countries are threatening global progress.
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For more information, contact the RBM Partnership Press Office on RBMPartnership@grayling.com or call +44 (0) 20 3861 3747.
Notes to editors:
*The methodology used by the World Health Organization to report on causes of death in children under five, as published in The Lancet, shows the impact of malaria in Africa is higher than previous estimates throughout the period 2000-2020.
Key findings from the World Malaria Report 2021:
- Since 2000, global commitment and partnership has saved 10.6 million lives and prevented 1.7 billion new malaria infections
- 241 million total malaria cases were reported worldwide in 2020 – an increase of 14 million (or 6%) compared to the 2019 revised estimate
- 627,000 total malaria deaths were reported worldwide in 2020 – an increase of 69,000 (or 12%) compared to the 2019 revised estimate
- Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of global malaria deaths
- According to the World Malaria Report 2021, global funding for malaria prevention, control and elimination totalled US$3.3 billion in 2020, falling well short of the US$6.8 billion required
More information about the World Malaria Report 2021 is available at: https://who.canto.global/v/WorldMalariaReport2021/
About the RBM Partnership to End Malaria
The RBM Partnership to End Malaria is the largest global platform for coordinated action against malaria. Originally established as Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership in 1998, it mobilizes for action and resources and forges consensus among partners. The Partnership is comprised of more than 500 partners, including malaria endemic countries, their bilateral and multilateral development partners, the private sector, nongovernmental and community-based organizations, foundations, and research and academic institutions. The RBM Partnership Secretariat is hosted by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in Geneva, Switzerland. endmalaria.org