PETALING JAYA: Various international medical groups have sounded the alarm over the rise in malaria cases around the world.
In a message in conjunction with World Malaria Day in April, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) regional director for South-East Asia, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said in the shadows of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world might not be on track to reach the global health body’s critical target for malaria by 2030.
These targets by the WHO’s Global Technical Strategy for Malaria (2016-2030) includes reducing global case incidence and mortality by 90% or more by 2030, based on 2015 levels.
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“In 2021, an estimated 619,000 people died from malaria globally compared with 625,000 in 2020. There were an estimated 247 million new malaria cases, compared with 245 million in 2020,” she said.
Dr Poonam said among the world’s regions, South-East Asia continues to lead globally in reducing cases although overall funding for malaria prevention and control decreased by 36% since 2010.
“Reductions in the efficacy of artemisinin-based combination therapies, especially in the Greater Mekong Subregion, as well as increased vector resistance to pyrethroids, risk increased morbidity, mortality and spread.
“In several countries, cross-border transmission continues to be a major impediment to achieving the elimination targets,” she said.
Across the region, gaps in services persist – in 2021, there were an estimated 385,000 more cases compared with 2020.
Despite this, at the end of 2020, she said South-East Asia was the only WHO region to achieve a 40% reduction in malaria case incidence and mortality compared with 2015 figures.
“Amid the Covid-19 response, Maldives and Sri Lanka have maintained their malaria-free status, and Bhutan, North Korea, Nepal, Thailand and Timor-Leste are among 25 countries and one territory globally identified as having the potential to eliminate malaria by 2025.
“In September 2023, Timor-Leste is likely to complete three consecutive years of reporting zero local malaria transmission. It would therefore be eligible to be certified malaria-free,” she pointed out.
The WHO also urged countries in the region to strengthen capacity at the sub-national level, with a focus on identifying clear and actionable goals, increasing resource allocations, and empowering local decision-makers.
Dr Poonam said it is also important to ensure adequate and sustained financing for malaria programmes and surveillance to ensure that even last-mile barriers are identified and overcome.
Sounding the alarm on the impact of climate change on health, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, said it is seeing a worrying trend of vector-borne, food-borne and water-borne diseases.
MSF’s International Medical secretary Dr Maria Guevara said that the occurrence of such diseases is expected to increase as the climate crisis accelerates.
“It is predicted that there will be 15 million more cases of malaria yearly, with 30,000 deaths linked to that, in addition to what we are already seeing now.
“One billion more people are expected to be exposed to dengue, not only in Asia Pacific, where it is much more prevalent, but across the world,” she said.