In a disconcerting revelation, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recently released World Malaria Report for 2023 underscores a surge in global malaria cases, reaching 249 million in 2022, up by five million from the previous year. This figure, now 7% higher than the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, signals a worrisome setback in the fight against malaria.
Africa remains the region bearing the brunt of the malaria burden, accounting for 94% of global cases and 95% of deaths. However, the notable rise of five million cases from 2021 to 2022 is concentrated primarily in five countries: Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, and Papua New Guinea, with Pakistan witnessing a five-fold increase in case incidence.
While progress has been made in averting malaria cases and deaths, with an estimated 549 million cases and 2.82 million deaths averted between 2020 and 2022, the report issues a stark warning about the escalating threat posed by climate change. For the first time, WHO identifies climate change as an increasing menace in the battle against malaria.
Malaria’s sensitivity to climate variables such as temperature, rainfall, and humidity is underscored in the report. The potential consequences include shifts in geographical locations where malaria cases emerge, with previously malaria-free areas at risk. The report also warns of the likelihood of more substantial malaria epidemics due to rising extreme weather events, as witnessed in Pakistan following the 2022 floods.
Dr. Michael Charles Adekunle, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, emphasized the urgency of addressing this growing threat: “Every year we wait will make elimination that much harder, as climate change accelerates and adds to the pressures we are already facing.”
While interventions like bed nets, vaccines, and seasonal malaria chemoprevention have been critical, the report highlights the challenges of insecticide resistance, inadequate funding, antimalarial drug resistance, the spread of the Anopheles stephensi mosquito vector, and humanitarian crises in malaria-endemic countries.
Joy Phumaphi, Board Chair of the RBM Partnership, called for urgent action and innovative financing to bridge the funding gaps, address drug and insecticide resistance, and confront the mounting threat of climate change on health.
Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, stressed the need for immediate action, stating, “Ending malaria can still be achieved if we act now. But every year we lose, the effects of climate change will make this harder.”
The RBM Partnership is urging donor countries, leaders, and policymakers to step up their support to eradicate malaria globally. At COP28, the partnership will articulate key areas for governmental, multilateral, and stakeholder support, emphasizing the connection between malaria and climate change and the necessity for robust data, science, and political leadership to ensure an effective and equitable response.