While malaria often caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected female mosquitoes claimed 384,000 lives in 2020, COVID-19, a highly infectious disease, killed 119,537.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti disclosed the figures of malaria’s fatalities in 2020 in Yola, Adamawa State capital yesterday, saying every malaria case “is preventable, and every malaria death is unacceptable.”
In 2019, according to Moeti, the WHO African Region accounted for 94% of both the 229 million malaria cases and 409,000 malaria deaths reported globally. This is despite the great progress made in malaria response in the region.
She said between 2000 and 2019, malaria incidence declined by 29% and deaths by 60%. More than 1.2 billion cases and 7.1 million deaths were averted in the region.
“Cabo Verde has maintained zero malaria status since 2018, Algeria was certified malaria free in 2019, and Botswana, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Ghana, Namibia and South Africa achieved the 2020 milestones of reducing malaria incidence and deaths by 40% compared to 2015.”
She, however, stated that 36 of the 44 malaria-endemic countries in the region did not achieve these milestones.
“Overall, the region was off track by 37% and 25% for the incidence and deaths milestones respectively. While malaria incidence in the region dropped by 9% to 10% every five years between 2000 and 2015, in the last five years, this has slowed to less than 2%.
“Every year that we let malaria spread, health and development suffers.”
“Malaria is responsible for an average annual reduction of 1.3% in Africa’s economic growth. Malaria-related absenteeism and productivity losses cost Nigeria, for example, an estimated US$ 1.1 billion every year.
“In 2003, malaria cost Uganda an estimated gross domestic product equivalent to US$ 11 million. In Kenya, approximately 170 million working days and 11% of primary school days are lost to malaria each year.
Moeti said to change this situation, more needs to be done to help at-risk populations hence encouraged testing, vaccination and insecticide-treated bed net (ITN) for all especially pregnant women and children
The regional director also revealed that there were new challenges on the horizon, such as increasing vector insecticide resistance in the region.
She explained that this could compromise the effectiveness of interventions like ITNs and indoor-residual spraying adding that resistance of malaria parasites to some medicines could also make this disease very difficult to treat.
“Genetic mutations of the malaria parasite (pfhrp2/3 gene deletions) were recently detected in the Horn of Africa and these could potentially increase false-negative malaria tests.
“The Anopheles stephensi mosquito, an urban malaria vector, has invaded the Horn of Africa in recent years, with the potential to cause devastating outbreaks in cities and towns.
“Urgent action is therefore needed to stop the scourge of this disease and to get on track towards the global malaria goals of a 90% reduction in cases and deaths by 2030.
“This includes investment to expand access to malaria interventions for groups that have been left behind, such as children and pregnant women. Smart deployment is also important to protect the effectiveness of malaria tools, along with Innovations to proactively address anticipated challenges.”
She said WHO was working with countries to look strategically at the stagnated progress in the past five years.
She said: “We are asking stakeholders in each endemic country to come together and answer the questions: what is working? what is not working? and what can be done differently to attain the 2030 targets?
“Together, we need to move from the perception of malaria as a health problem, to understanding this disease as a threat to socio-economic development that requires a multisectoral response.”