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More countries than ever before on the verge of zero malaria

Ending malaria critical to beating future pandemics and unlocking economic and societal benefits, leaders say ahead of this year’s World Malaria Day

Geneva, 21 April 2021: Twenty-four countries around the world have eliminated malaria since 2000, and more countries than ever before are within reach of zero malaria in the coming years. However, leaders must step up investments to end malaria as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten historic gains against one of the oldest and deadliest diseases, participants heard at today’s Virtual Forum on Malaria Elimination, co-hosted by the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Held in the lead-up to this year’s World Malaria Day on 25th April, the event highlighted recent progress towards malaria elimination, with Algeria, Paraguay and Uzbekistan, as well as El Salvador, the first Central American country, all being certified malaria-free since 2015.

Over the past two decades, the number of countries that have reduced the burden of malaria to under 1,000 annual cases has more than doubled from 14 to 34, putting the world on track to end malaria within a generation.

Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, says: “Since the turn of the century, countries around the world have proven again and again that malaria elimination is a viable and worthwhile goal. Ending malaria leads to healthier, more resilient communities, economies and health systems that are critical for confronting new health challenges. This World Malaria Day, I call on countries worldwide to reaffirm their commitment to achieving zero malaria.”

During today’s forum, WHO also announced its new E-2025 initiative focusing on 25 countries within reach of achieving zero malaria cases by 2025, including Botswana, Cabo Verde, the Dominican Republic, South Africa and Thailand.

Eradicating malaria worldwide could save millions more lives and unlock trillions of dollars in economic potential, while strengthening countries’ health systems and capacity to respond to both existing and emerging diseases. In Asia-Pacific alone, malaria elimination is projected to save over 400,000 lives and prevent 120 million malaria cases, unlocking $90 billion in economic benefits.

Malaria investments are also playing a crucial role in countries’ response to the ongoing pandemic, protecting fragile health systems in malaria-affected countries, leveraging disease surveillance systems and mobilising frontline health workers in the dual fight against malaria and COVID-19.

High burden countries – the challenge ahead

Despite remarkable progress in recent decades, with 7.6 million lives saved and 1.5 billion new infections prevented, over 225 million cases and 409,000 deaths due to malaria were reported in 2019 – more than 90% of which were concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa.

Whilst the global malaria community averted the worst-case scenario of doubling malaria deaths on the continent last year due to COVID-19 disruptions, the WHO’s World Malaria Report 2020 projected that malaria deaths and cases are likely to rise as a result of the pandemic.

The ongoing spread of COVID-19 continues to threaten the malaria response, particularly in the highest malaria burden countries where the rate of progress has slowed in recent years. For instance, a recent report from the Global Fund uncovered significant disruptions to health systems across Africa and Asia in 2020 due to COVID-19, with malaria diagnoses falling by 31%.

Dr Abdourahmane Diallo comments: “Despite historic progress made against malaria, we must also acknowledge what more must be done to end suffering from this dreadful disease. Malaria still takes a child’s life every two minutes, and so we must all work together to fulfil our commitments, drive innovation and close the $US2.6 billion annual funding gap that holds us back from achieving our vision of a malaria-free world.”

Accelerating towards zero malaria this World Malaria Day

The theme of this year’s World Malaria Day, ‘Zero Malaria – Draw the Line Against Malaria’ celebrates the progress achieved by a diverse set of countries who have achieved zero malaria since 2000. The global awareness day, held on 25th April, will encourage a growing number of nations on the cusp of elimination and accelerate the movement to end malaria in countries still impacted by the disease.

To mark World Malaria Day, several countries that have eliminated malaria this century, including China, Sri Lanka and UAE, will illuminate landmarks at 21:00 local time on 25th April in a global relay to celebrate progress towards zero malaria around the world and highlight the urgency of ending this disease everywhere.

Furthermore, countries including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe are organizing activities in support of the pan-African ‘Zero Malaria Starts with Me’ movement, which mobilizes and empowers communities to take ownership over the fight to end malaria.

To accelerate action on the continent and harness the energy of Africa’s youth, in February the RBM Partnership launched ‘Draw the Line Against Malaria’ – a youth-focused, Africa-first global campaign. In partnership with Gallup International, the RBM Partnership’s research found that 9 in 10 African youth want to take personal action in the fight against malaria, with almost two-thirds (61%) believing the disease can be eliminated in their lifetimes.

Whitney Mwangi, Member of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance Youth Advisory Council said: “Three quarters of the African population are under the age of 35 and are powerful agents of change. We are ready to act against malaria, and it’s time to draw the line against this disease once and for all. Whether by choosing a medical career, adopting preventative and protective interventions, or holding leaders accountable, Africa’s youth must be empowered to drive action against malaria and take back their futures.”

This World Malaria Day, the RBM Partnership to End Malaria urges people in Africa and worldwide to Draw the Line Against Malaria at ZeroMalaria.org and join the conversation on social media by using #DrawTheLine, #ZeroMalaria and #WorldMalariaDay.

– ENDS –

Contact:

For more information about the WHO report ‘Zeroing in on malaria elimination: Final report of the E-2020 initiative’, the Draw the Line campaign or World Malaria Day 2021, please contact the RBM Partnership Press Office on RBMPartnership@grayling.com or call +44 (0) 20 3861 3747.

Notes to editors:

About malaria

  • Malaria is one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases. It existed since the time of the dinosaurs and some believe it has killed half the people that ever lived.
  • Malaria is entirely preventable and treatable. Despite this, over 400,000 people die from it each year—most of them children under the age of five. A child still dies from malaria every two minutes.
  • Half the world is still at risk from malaria, with more than 90% of the world’s malaria burden in Africa.

Findings from ‘Zeroing in on malaria elimination: Final report of the E-2020 initiative’

  • Over the last two decades, strong political commitment and effective interventions have drastically reduced the global burden of malaria, with more countries than ever achieving and approaching malaria elimination.
  • Twenty-four countries achieved zero malaria transmission for three years or more between 2000 and 2020, and 11 countries were certified malaria-free by WHO between 2000 and 2021. Globally, a total of 38 countries and territories have been certified malaria-free by WHO.
  • In 2017, WHO launched the E-2020 initiative, made up of 21 countries across five regions with the potential to reach malaria elimination by 2020. The new report published on 21st April, ‘Zeroing in on malaria elimination’, summarizes progress and lessons learned over the last three years.
  • By the end of 2020, eight E-2020 countries had successfully reported zero indigenous cases of malaria, despite the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic: Algeria, Belize, Cabo Verde, China, El Salvador, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Malaysia and Paraguay.
  • Building on the success of the E-2020 initiative, WHO has now identified a new group of 25 countries that have the potential to eliminate malaria by 2025.
    • The E-2025 initiative includes 8 new countries (Dominican Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand and Vanuatu) and 17 E-2020 member countries (Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Comoros, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Eswatini, Islamic Republic of Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Suriname and Timor Leste).
    • This includes countries that have reached zero indigenous cases of malaria but have not officially requested a malaria-free certification from WHO.
  • More information about the new report is available here.

About Draw the Line Against Malaria

Draw the Line Against Malaria is a new campaign providing a rallying cry for young people to unite and fight malaria by driving more action, more innovation, more funding and more political leadership to achieve zero malaria within a generation. The campaign builds on the pan-African Zero Malaria Starts with Me movement that shows the power we each have to help end malaria.

Nigerian artist Láolú Senbanjo created the ‘Muundo’, a fresh new universal language made up of lines, symbols and patterns allowing people across cultures and continents to add their line to a collective message against malaria. Further talent fronting the campaign include Nigerian musician Yemi Alade, Kenyan Olympian Eliud Kpichoge and South African rugby champion Siya Kolisi, among others.

Youth in Africa, and people globally, are encouraged to draw the line on the ‘Muundo’ to demand action at zeromalaria.org.

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 

Facebook: @RBMPartnership

Twitter: @endmalaria

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Credits: World Health Organization (WHO)

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