New data confirms that over 90% of life-saving malaria intervention campaigns scheduled for this year are on track across Africa, Asia and the Americas, helping to protect millions from the disease and avoid a severe increase in malaria cases and deaths in the face of significant challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries that in recent years either reached or are on the verge of reaching zero malaria cases also are maintaining their focus on eliminating this preventable and treatable disease.
The status of the global malaria fight was a focus of the high-level virtual event Zero Malaria Challenge: How the lessons of the past can inspire progress to end malaria, held under the leadership of His Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya in his capacity as Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance.
Campaigns distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, as well as preventative treatments for children and pregnant women have contributed to saving more than 7 million lives and preventing over 1 billion new malaria infections since 2000. It is essential that these campaigns and routine community-level interventions are not disrupted to avoid a surge in malaria cases, especially in Africa, a continent which accounts for over 90% of the global malaria burden.
Significantly, over 200 million long-lasting insecticide treated nets are on track to be distributed this year in over 30 nations that had planned them for 2020. This includes countries such as Benin, Sierra Leone and South Sudan, some of which pioneered innovative door-to-door mosquito net distribution campaigns amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, seasonal malaria chemoprevention campaigns are going ahead in 12 countries across the Sahel region this year, protecting more than 20 million children. Meanwhile, Kenya, Malawi and Ghana managed to immunize over 300,000 children against malaria since the launch of the pilot malaria vaccine programme in 2019. Suriname deployed its malaria health workers to help fight the novel coronavirus.
Countries including El Salvador, Malaysia and China, which have registered zero malaria cases for three consecutive years, have maintained disease surveillance activities and continued to keep malaria at bay.
Yet, even with the remarkable actions taken by countries, malaria cases and mortality are expected to rise this year. Key risk factors include disruptions in access to health services, including treatment seeking at health care facilities, and in the delivery of key malaria commodities.
DrAbdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, said: “This year, under the worst of circumstances, countries have proven they don’t need to choose between protecting populations from COVID-19 or malaria; they can – and should – do both. Despite the unprecedented challenges faced, it is a remarkable achievement that countries and their partners around the world have successfully sustained planned malaria efforts – including distributing record numbers of insecticide-treated nets and continuing the march to zero malaria – ensuring that communities remain protected from the deadly mosquito bite.”
In April, the World Health Organization warned that the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to double malaria deaths in 2020 due to severe disruptions to essential malaria programmes. In response, malaria-affected countries, in collaboration with global malaria partners, mobilized to safely deliver life-saving malaria interventions.
Speaking at the Zero Malaria Challenge event, Mr John Barsa, acting Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which leads the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, said: “Decades of investment to address malaria have built stronger health systems and equipped our partner countries to better respond to COVID-19. In this dual fight against malaria and COVID-19, USAID remains committed to protecting and advancing our progress in countries where malaria is endemic. We call on all of countries and partners to unite with us to do the same.”
Ms Wendy Morton MP, Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said: “During this pandemic and beyond, essential malaria services must continue, malaria patients must be protected from other health threats, and health must receive adequate attention and funding. We must collaborate, invest in what works, and continue to do all we can to protect the most vulnerable.”
Mr Peter Sands, Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, commented: “No virus exists in isolation, and therefore our response must take into account the broader impact they have. We must use COVID-19 as an opportunity to learn lessons to improve collaboration and innovation, as well as set our ambitions higher for achieving Zero Malaria.”
The RBM Partnership’s event, which took place on the sidelines of this year’s United Nations General Assembly discussion, shone a spotlight on the urgent need to protect historic gains against malaria that are under threat as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to reinvigorate global efforts towards a malaria-free world.