malaria infected red blood cell

WHO issues World Malaria Report 2017

29 November 2017

Citing a rise in global malaria cases last year, World Health Organization officials have released the 2017 World Malaria Report with warnings of stalled progress in the fight against the disease and calls for urgent action to shore up gains made in recent years.

Estimated cases of falciparum malaria grew from 211 million in 2015 to 216 million in 2016, an increase of 2.4 per cent, according to the report. Although relatively small, the growth in cases confirmed that recent progress – including a 37 per cent decrease in new malaria cases from 2000 to 2015 – has slowed.

“We are now at a turning point,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who alluded to global ambitions of reducing malaria incidence and mortality by 40 per cent by 2020. “Without urgent action we risk going backwards and missing the global malaria targets for 2020 and beyond.”

Officials said the world is not on track to meet these targets. The report, published each year, provides a comprehensive update for health workers, researchers and other disease stakeholders.

Although officials declined to attribute the increase to a single cause, they pointed to lack of funding at the national and international level. They noted that the $2.7 billion spent in 2016 falls short of the $6.5 billion required to meet targets.

While the report contained several positive developments, including the fact that malaria deaths decreased slightly, from 446,000 in 2015 to 445,000 last year, it also showed that endemic countries are falling into two categories: those that are making progress toward elimination and those that are falling behind.

According to the report, 27 per cent of estimated malaria cases occurred in Nigeria, 10 per cent in Democratic Republic of Congo and 6 per cent in India.

Despite the emergence and spread of antimalarial resistance in recent years – including multidrug resistant strains identified across the Greater Mekong Subregion – officials said there was probably no link to the rise in malaria cases overall.

“We don’t think so,” Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, told WWARN. He affirmed the general effectiveness of artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs), the leading therapy for falciparum malaria. “The first line treatments remain highly efficacious.”

In addition to findings on falciparum malaria, the report also showed a rise in vivax malaria cases worldwide, from 8.1 million in 2015 to 8.5 million in 2016, an increase of about 4.8 per cent.