The World Health Organization reports a significant increase in malaria cases and deaths in 2020 due to interruptions in malaria services due to COVID-19.
Over the past two decades, the global malaria death rate has halved, saving 10.6 million lives. New data compiled by WHO shows that COVID-19 has halted and even reversed progress made in reducing deaths from this preventable and treatable disease.
The WHO World Malaria Report estimates that there were 241 million cases of malaria and 627,000 deaths from malaria in 2020, an increase of 14 million cases and 69,000 deaths from the previous year. WHO attributes this increase to disruptions in the provision of services for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria during a pandemic.
Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO Global Malaria Program, said the situation could have been much worse. The good news, he said, is that the predicted doomsday scenario did not come true. He notes that the dismal predictions of a huge spike in malaria made in March 2020 did not materialize.
“One worst-case scenario was that the death rate from malaria would double. So let me repeat that this is not the case. We can call it a success story, although an additional 47,000 people died as a result of the disruptions, ”said Alonso.
Progress in the global fight against malaria remains uneven, the report says.
Between 2000 and 2020, WHO certified 12 countries as malaria-free. Two countries, China and El Salvador, achieved this status in 2021 despite the ongoing pandemic.
Since 2015, both cases and deaths have stopped in most of the 93 endemic countries and territories around the world. However, other data show that malaria cases have increased in 32 countries, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa and some in South America.
Alonso said the situation remains particularly dire in Africa, where the burden of malaria remains unacceptably high. He notes that Africa accounts for about 96 percent of the world’s deaths, 80 percent among children under the age of five.
“At the same time, the pandemic is not over yet, and the pace of economic recovery remains uncertain. Without immediate and accelerated action, the key objectives of the WHO Global Technical Strategy 2030 will be missed and additional opportunities may be lost, ”he said.
The WHO strategy calls for a 90% reduction in malaria cases and deaths by 2030. It also calls for the elimination of malaria in at least 35 countries and the prevention of reoccurrence of the disease in all malaria-free countries.