|The incidence rate of malaria has fallen for the first time in recent years, but half of the world's population remains at risk of the mosquito-borne disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a new report / Photo by: PongMoji via Shutterstock|
The incidence rate of malaria has fallen for the first time in recent years, but half of the world's population remains at risk of the mosquito-borne disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a new report. Developments in how Southeast Asian countries address the disease drove the downward trend in incidence rate, but other countries are still in "unacceptably high" levels for infections.
Stalled funding is seen as the reason for the slow progress, the UN health agency warned, adding that continuing transmission via mosquitoes remains a risk. Children and pregnant women in Africa remain at the burdensome end of the malaria epidemic, which notes the discrepancies in the effort against the disease.
The Fall Down
In 2018, the WHO estimated that there were 228 million reported malaria cases worldwide—a three million drop from figures in the previous year. Fewer cases in Southeast Asia contributed to this drop, according to the journal Nature, with six countries across the Mekong River basin marking the greatest decline in the past decade: Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
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In the last decade, the six Southeast Asian countries recorded a 76% drop in malaria cases while deaths due to the mosquito-borne disease plummeted by 95%. Cambodia reported zero malaria-related deaths for the first time in 2018 while India reported 2.6 million fewer cases of infections during the same year. A substantial decline in reported cases was also seen in Bangladesh and Thailand.
Overall, the region had an estimated 8 million reported cases and 11,600 malaria deaths in 2018—the largest decline in all WHO-recognized regions. The Maldives and Sri Lanka are certified malaria-free while Timor-Leste and Bhutan are growing closer to the elimination target, according to the report.
All Southeast Asian countries have set strategic plans to eliminate malaria by 2030, putting them on track to achieve more than 40% reduction in the number of incidence by 2020. This is significant progress in the battle against the disease, but an estimated 1.6 billion people in the region are still at risk of being infected as malaria becomes endemic.
Other parts of the world are seeing a rise in malaria cases—specifically Africa.
Despite the notable decrease in global incidences, malaria continues to infect millions and kill thousands of people. The past year saw 405,000 malaria-related deaths—an estimated 380,000 of which were from Africa, with 25% from Nigeria alone.
According to Al Jazeera, the WHO report found that children and pregnant women in the region continue to feel the effects of the epidemic. Al Jazeera is a partly Qatari state-funded broadcaster based in Doha that provides the latest news headlines and current events from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
It adds that malaria has infected about 11 million pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa (29% of total pregnancies) that resulted in 900,000 newborns being low birth weight. The report noted a significant increase in the number of women and children in the region who are sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets and are using preventive medicines to avoid infections.
However, the WHO maintained that progress is still slow—especially in countries that take the hardest hit. For instance, over a third of young children in the region were also reported to not have mosquito nets in their homes.
"In most parts of the world, a child who gets malaria today has a better chance of survival than at any other point in history," Maha Taysir Barakat, chair of the End Malaria advocacy group, said in a statement.
"Yet, despite the availability of effective life-saving malaria interventions, too many vulnerable pregnant women and children still face the greatest risk of dying from a mosquito bite."
Insecticide-treated nets and preventive antimalarial medicines are the recommended measures to protect pregnant women and children from malaria infections, as well as strengthening health services "that include prompt diagnostic testing and treatment," the UN said in a statement.
The WHO report revealed that about 61% of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa slept under a mosquito net in 2018. Another 31% were also given antimalarial medicines—an increase of 22% from the year before—while 72% of children in the region benefited from preventive medicine as well.
However, there is still a significant number of pregnant women and children who either don't receive the recommended dose of the medicine or don't get any medical attention at all.
The UN said establishing an integrated community to manage malaria, as well as pneumonia and diarrhea, can close the gap in clinical care in hard-to-reach regions. But bottlenecks in health financing hinder most sub-Saharan African countries to implement the approach.
"Inadequate funding remains a major barrier to future progress," the agency explained. "Total funding for malaria control and elimination reached an estimated $2.7 billion in 2018, falling far short of the $5 billion global targets."
Seeing the slow down in the progress to eliminate malaria and prevent further deaths is concerning. Governments and donor nations are called on to step up the fight against the disease to move away from the unacceptably high level of infections and malaria-related deaths.
|Governments and donor nations are called on to step up the fight against the disease to move away from the unacceptably high level of infections and malaria-related deaths / Photo by: Manjurul Haque via Shutterstock|