Malaria cases, deaths rise due to stalled funding, disruptions caused by COVID-19 pandemic

Disease killed 627,000, infected 241m worldwide in 2020

Ahead of World Malaria Day (WMD) on April 25, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, yesterday, said the disease now kills one child every minute.

WHO and Global Fund, in separate statements, said after years of steady decline, malaria cases and deaths are on the rise due to stalled funding and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global Fund said there were an estimated 241 million malaria cases and 627,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020, which represents about 14 million more cases in 2020 compared to 2019, and 69,000 more deaths.

Approximately two-thirds of these additional deaths were linked to COVID-19 disruptions.

In addition, it said climate change-related fluctuations in rainfall, temperature and humidity might shift malaria transmission to areas that may not be adequately resourced or prepared to prevent, detect, and treat the disease. Invasive malaria-carrying mosquito species are spreading to new countries via freight traffic.

Executive Director of Global Fund, Peter Sands, said: “More than ever before, Global Fund needs to support countries in their efforts to revitalise and sustain the fight against malaria.

“We must seek to provide better and more equitable access to all health services, vastly increase funding for malaria programs, invest in new approaches and innovations and make better use of existing tools.

“This year, with Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment conference, the world has an opportunity to invest more to protect our hard-won gains against malaria and get back on track to end the disease by 2030. This will save millions of lives – the vast majority of them children under five.”

Meanwhile, WHO said the first malaria vaccine could save the lives of an additional 40,000 to 80,000 African children each year if widely deployed.

According to the result of a pilot programme coordinated by WHO, more than one million children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have received one or more doses of the world’s first malaria vaccine.

The malaria vaccine pilots, first launched by the government of Malawi in April 2019, have shown that the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) vaccine is safe and feasible to deliver and that it substantially reduces deadly severe malaria.

WHO, in a statement, said these findings paved the way for the historic October 2021 recommendation for the expanded use of RTS,S among children living in settings with moderate to high malaria transmission.

It said more than $155 million has been secured from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to support the introduction, procurement and delivery of the malaria vaccine for Gavi-eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the statement, the WHO guidance is available to countries as they consider whether and how to adopt RTS,S as an additional tool to reduce child illness and deaths from malaria.

Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “As a malaria researcher in my early career, I dreamed of the day we would have an effective vaccine against this devastating disease.

“This vaccine is not just a scientific breakthrough, it’s life-changing for families across Africa. It demonstrates the power of science and innovation for health. Even so, there is an urgent need to develop more and better tools to save lives and drive progress towards a malaria-free world.”


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