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Global fight against malaria at risk as cases rise with climate change

Pakistan witnessed the highest global increase in cases, with Ethiopia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Uganda closely following suit.
Global fight against malaria at risk as cases rise with climate change
Posted at 6:10 PM, Nov 30, 2023

The battle against malaria is at risk, with cases of the disease reaching 249 million globally in 2022.

According to new data released by the World Health Organization, there was an increase of 5 million additional malaria cases in 2022 compared to 2021, and a total surge of 16 million since 2019.

The WHO says that efforts to combat malaria have been hampered in recent years by disruptions caused by not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the impact of climate change. 

Extreme weather events, including heat waves and flooding, directly impact disease transmission as temperature and rainfall changes affect how the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito behaves and survives.

“The changing climate poses a substantial risk to progress against malaria, particularly in vulnerable regions. Sustainable and resilient malaria responses are needed now more than ever, coupled with urgent actions to slow the pace of global warming and reduce its effects,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in a press release.

In 2022, Pakistan experienced catastrophic flooding, leading to a fivefold increase in malaria cases, with about 2.6 million cases in 2022 up from 500,000 in 2021. This resulted in Pakistan witnessing the highest global increase in cases, with Ethiopia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Uganda closely following.

Worldwide, malaria cases hit 58 per 1,000 people at risk, surpassing the WHO's goal of 26 cases per 1,000. The WHO warns that progress toward malaria elimination is now 55% off track, and if we continue with the same trajectory progress will be off track by 89% in 2030.

“It is crucial to recognize the multitude of threats that impede our response efforts. Climate variability poses a substantial risk, but we must also contend with challenges such as limited healthcare access, ongoing conflicts and emergencies, the lingering effects of COVID-19 on service delivery, inadequate funding and uneven implementation of our core malaria interventions,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa in the press release. “To forge ahead toward a malaria-free future, we need a concerted effort to tackle these diverse threats that fosters innovation, resource mobilization and collaborative strategies.” Adding to the problem is that there's a substantial funding gap.

The report says that in 2022, around $4.1 billion was spent on malaria control and elimination, which was up from the $3.5 billion in 2021 and $3.3 billion in 2020. However, the average annual funding over the past five years has been about $3.3 billion, which falls short of the $7.8 billion estimated to be needed to meet global targets.

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