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WHO Launches New Malaria Control Efforts

The new response program will focus on scaling up prevention and treatment efforts for malaria and increasing financial investments to better protect vulnerable populations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced they are launching a new country-led response to increase malaria control efforts. The focus of the response will be scaling up prevention and treatment for malaria and increasing financial investments to better protect vulnerable populations.

The WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030 has a target to reduce malaria cases and death by at least 40% by 2020. Current global case counts indicate that the goal will not be met, as reductions in case counts have stagnated.

In 2010, there were approximately 239 million malaria cases reported worldwide. This figure decreased consistently over the next 5 years with 214 million cases reported in 2015; however, case counts rose over the next couple of years and 219 million cases were reported in 2017.

“Nobody should die from malaria. But the world faces a new reality: as progress stagnates, we are at risk of squandering years of toil, investment, and success in reducing the number of people suffering from the disease,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD, WHO Director-General said in a statement. “We recognize we have to do something different—now. So today, we are launching a country-focused and -led plan to take comprehensive action against malaria by making our work more effective where it counts most—at the local level.”

According to the WHO, 151 million of the 219 million cases reported in 2017 (70%), occurred in India or 1 of 10 nations in Africa.

The total number of malaria cases in African nations increased by 3.5 million from 2016 to 2017. This can be attributed to several reasons including that approximately 50% of at-risk individuals in Africa did not sleep under a treated net (during that time). Additionally, there has been a decrease in the number of homes using residual sprays, and access to preventive therapies that protect pregnant women and children from malaria remains low.

Despite the increase in cases in some African nations, both Rwanda and Ethiopia saw a decrease in cases from 2016 to 2017, by 436,000 cases and more than 240,000 cases, respectively. During the same time period, India, a country that represents 4% of the malaria cases reported worldwide had a 24% reduction in cases.

China and El Salvador—nations where malaria has been endemic—did not observe any local transmission in 2017, demonstrating that using country-led control efforts can be successful in reducing transmission.

Currently, there are 46 nations that are nearing elimination status and Algeria, Argentina and Uzbekistan have all applied to be certified as malaria-free, a status that was granted to Paraguay earlier this year.

“There is no standing still with malaria. The latest world malaria report shows that further progress is not inevitable and that business as usual is no longer an option,” Kesete Admasu, MD, chief executive officer of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, a partner of WHO’s in the new response said in a statement. “The new country-led response will jumpstart aggressive new malaria control efforts in the highest burden countries and will be crucial to get back on track with fighting one of the most pressing health challenges we face.”

In addition to focusing on improving prevention and treatment, the WHO is calling for increased funding for global response efforts. Funding leveled-off with $3.1 billion made available in 2017, consisting of $900 million from the government of malaria-endemic countries. The United States contributed $1.2 billion in 2017 and remains the largest international donor to efforts for control and elimination.

The WHO estimates that investments should reach at least $6.6 billion annually by 2020 in order to reach the 2030 targets, which is more than double the amount contributed in 2017.