After years of success, global response to malaria has stalled due to levelling off of funding and increase in new cases, threatening to reverse efforts to control malaria, a new report by the World Health Organisation has warned.
The report points out that progress in pushing down infections and deaths from malaria has stalled and even reversed in some countries.
Consequently, the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned of a “troubling shift” in the downward trajectory of malaria, one of the biggest killers in developing countries like Kenya, and until recently, one of the greatest public health success stories.
“In recent years, we have made major gains in the fight against malaria. We are now at a turning point. Without urgent action, we risk going backwards, and missing the global malaria targets for 2020 and beyond,” said Dr Tedros.
There were an estimated five million more malaria cases in 2016 than in 2015. Malaria deaths stood at around 445,000, a similar number to the previous year. For the first time in a decade, malaria cases went up to a total of 216 million.
The report further notes that 24 countries that have more than 300,000 cases are showing signs of resurgence; while 44 malaria-affected countries with less than 10,000 cases are on course toward elimination.
“If we are to get the global malaria response back on track, supporting the most heavily affected countries in Africa must be the primary focus,” said Dr Tedros.
Whereas Rwanda saw the greatest increase in malaria cases, with nearly a million people contracting the mosquito-borne disease, according to the World Malaria Report, released last Wednesday, Kenya was ranked among 15 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that accounted for 80 per cent of all malaria cases in the world in 2016.
“This report presents a clear choice: either we do what is necessary to end this disease, or we risk backsliding on previous investments and letting malaria resurge at the cost of millions of lives and trillions of dollars in economic benefits,” said Martin Edlund, the CEO of Malaria No More.
One of the major problems highlighted in the report is insufficient funding at both domestic and international levels, which results in major gaps in coverage of insecticide-treated nets, medicines, and other life-saving tools. There is a real chance malaria could be eliminated, but only if funding increases.
US WAS LARGEST FUNDER
An estimated Sh279 billion was invested in malaria control and elimination efforts globally in 2016. That is well below the Sh670 billion annual investment required by 2020 to meet the 2030 targets of the WHO Global Malaria Strategy.
In 2016, governments of endemic countries provided US$ 800 million (30 per cent of total funding).
The United States of America was the largest international funder of malaria control programmes in 2016, providing US$1 billion (38 per cent of all malaria funding), followed by the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan.
“Getting back on track to reach our goal of a malaria-free Africa by 2030 will require leaders to prioritise funding, scale up access to life-saving malaria interventions and new tools, and strengthen health systems. In addition, the international community must sustain their commitments to these efforts,” said Joy Phumaphi, the Executive Secretary of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance.