The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that progress in the fight against malaria appears to have stalled.
In its annual report on the disease, WHO says the number of cases and deaths has remained largely unchanged in the past two years, in contrast to the dramatic falls seen since the turn of the century.
Funding shortfalls and disruptions to treatment in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic risk tens of thousands more lives being lost to malaria.
More than 409,000 people globally – most of them babies in the poorest parts of Africa – were killed by malaria last year, the WHO said in its latest global malaria report, and COVID-19 will almost certainly make that toll higher in 2020.
“Our estimates are that depending on the level of service disruption (due to COVID-19) … there could be an excess of malaria deaths of somewhere between 20,000 and 100,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, most of them in young children,” Pedro Alsonso, director of the WHO’s malaria programme, told reporters.
“It’s very likely that excess malaria mortality is larger than the direct COVID mortality.”
In 2019, there were 229 million cases of malaria worldwide, an annual figure that has remained virtually unchanged over the past four years. Some 409,000 people died from the disease in 2019 compared with 411,000 in 2018.
Due to the ongoing transmission of malaria via mosquitoes in many parts of the world, half the global population is at risk of contracting the disease – and it still kills a child every two minutes.
Despite this, the focus of global funding and attention has been diverted, making preventable child deaths more likely.
The UN health agency says funding is part of the problem.
The report shows 21 countries have eliminated malaria over the last 20 years; of these, 10 countries have been officially certified as malaria-free by the WHO.