World not on track to meet 2020 milestone for malaria control: WHO

Currently, less than one per cent of the global funds for health R&D investment are allocated to develop tools to fight malaria

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 27 August 2019
Photo: Getty Images

Insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, rapid diagnostic tests and drugs based on artemisinin — are the tools currently used to tackle malaria. However, these were developed in the last century or even earlier. With these interventions, a world free of malaria could be a distant dream, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in a new report.

It is not even on track to meet the 2020 milestones that can lower incidence cases and mortality by 90 per cent by 2030 (from the 2015 level), according to the report by WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group on Malaria Eradication (SAGme).

The world needs to prevent at least 40 per cent malaria case incidence and mortality rates by 2020 and eliminate the disease in at least 10 countries.

The report highlights the urgent need to scale up R&D to develop new tools and approaches for controlling vector, chemotherapy, and vaccines.

Currently, less than one per cent of the global funds for health R&D investment are allocated to develop tools to fight malaria, WHO said.

However, the world needed an estimated $4.4 billion in 2017 and needs $6.6 billion by 2020. In 2017, global funding for malaria control and elimination fell short by $1.3 billion, the WHO said.

Besides, effective political leadership, strengthened cross-border, regional, and international cooperation are also necessary to coordinate malaria control and elimination efforts worldwide.  

“While we are certain that eradication by a specific date is not a promise we can make to the world just yet, there is a clear agenda, beginning with getting back on track to achieve the goals of the Global technical strategy for malaria 2016-2030, that should be pursued at present to make eradication possible,” the report said.

Malaria has seen a significant global reduction in the number of cases and deaths between 2000 and 2015, barring the last two years, were global progress remained stagnant, according to the World malaria report 2017.

In 2016, malaria caused around 445,000 deaths, a similar number to the previous year. There were an estimated five million more malaria cases in 2016 than in 2015.

Contracted through the bite of an infected mosquito, malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers. It accounted for an estimated 219 million cases from 87 countries and over 400,000 related deaths in 2017. Over 60 per cent of fatalities were among children aged under 5 years, and caused 266,000 of all malaria deaths worldwide, according to WHO's World malaria report 2018.

The SAGme report also flagged the need for progress to advance universal health coverage and strengthen health services and delivery systems, so everyone can access malaria prevention, diagnostics and treatment, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship.

“To achieve a malaria-free world we must reinvigorate the drive to find the transformative strategies and tools that can be tailored to the local situation. Business as usual is not only slowing progress, but it is sending us backwards,” according to Marcel Tanner, Chair of the SAGme.

Meanwhile, four countries from Asia — China, Iran, Malaysia and Timor-Leste — and one from Central America — El Salvador — reported no indigenous cases of malaria in 2018, while Algeria and Argentina were declared as malaria-free in May 2019.

The countries were part of the global health body's E-2020 initiative. Launched in 2016, it is currently working in 21 countries, spanning five regions to scale up efforts to achieve malaria elimination by 2020. So far, WHO has certified 38 countries and territories malaria-free.

New diagnostics, medications, insecticides and vector control approaches are also being developed, alongside passive immunisation therapies such as monoclonal antibodies, the WHO said. The world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01, has been deployed in Ghana and Malawi, with plans for rollout in Kenya, it added.

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