Despite efforts to expand access to prevention measures, a new WHO report reveals a concerning trend: malaria cases globally rose to 249 million in 2022, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by 16 million.
Threats to Malaria Response
The global malaria response faces numerous challenges, including COVID-19 disruptions, drug and insecticide resistance, humanitarian crises, resource constraints, and climate change impacts. These factors particularly affect high-burden countries.
Climate Change Nexus Explored
The 2023 World Malaria Report investigates the intricate relationship between climate change and malaria. Temperature, humidity, and rainfall changes influence the behavior of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and extreme weather events directly impact disease transmission.
Climate-Induced Events and Malaria
Catastrophic events, like the 2022 flooding in Pakistan, resulted in a five-fold increase in malaria cases. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasizes the substantial risk climate change poses to malaria progress, calling for resilient responses.
Disruptions and Indirect Effects
Climate variability indirectly affects malaria trends by disrupting essential services and supply chains for preventive measures. Population displacement due to climate-induced factors may elevate malaria cases as individuals without immunity migrate to endemic areas.
COVID-19 Impact and Global Trends
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted malaria services, causing a surge in cases. Five million additional malaria cases in 2022, with Pakistan facing the largest increase, indicate a setback in achieving the WHO global malaria strategy’s 2025 milestones.
Challenges in High-Burden Countries
While rates in high-burden countries leveled off, they remain a concern. The “High burden to high impact” approach faced challenges such as limited healthcare access, ongoing conflicts, and the lingering effects of COVID-19.
Achievements and Vaccination Progress
The report acknowledges achievements, including the first WHO-recommended malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01, showing substantial reductions in severe malaria and childhood deaths. The recent recommendation of a second vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, aims to increase supply for broad-scale deployment.
Progress Toward Malaria Elimination
Several countries with a low burden of malaria reported progress toward elimination. WHO-certified malaria-free countries in 2022 include Azerbaijan, Belize, and Tajikistan. However, a significant pivot with increased resources, political commitment, and innovation is needed.
Call for Sustainable Responses
In the face of climate change threats, the report emphasizes the necessity for sustainable and resilient malaria responses. Whole-of-society engagement is crucial to building integrated approaches that address the diverse challenges hindering progress against malaria.