Malaria on the rise in more than 13 countries, experts warn
After almost two decades of decline, malaria cases have significantly risen in 13 countries, prompting concern that much more is needed to combat the epidemic.
Many other countries have also seen their numbers either rise or plateau, according to the World Health Organization’s 2018 World Malaria Report, released Monday.
Globally, malaria numbers rose slightly: 219 million cases in 2017, compared with 217 million in 2016.
“No significant progress in reducing global malaria cases was made” between 2015 and 2017, the report states. Before then, the number of people contracting the disease globally had been falling.
The 10 highest-burden countries in Africa saw a significant increase in cases. Nigeria, Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo had the greatest rise, reporting an extra half a million cases each.
Across the 10 countries — including Tanzania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda and Niger — there were an extra 3.5 million people diagnosed with malaria in 2017 over 2016.
“We’re no longer seeing a decrease in malaria as we were over the past few years,” said Alistair Robb, senior adviser for WHO’s Global Malaria Programme. “This is a concern.”
WHO’s region of the Americas also saw a rise in malaria cases, mostly due to increases in Brazil, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted through the bite of female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is both preventable and treatable, yet an estimated 435,000 people died of it worldwide in 2017. The African region accounts for 92% of all cases, according to the report.
Some countries had a significant decline in the number of reported cases, most notably India, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Rwanda. India reported 3 million fewer cases and Rwanda 430,000 fewer cases in 2017, according to the report. Experts are heralding these countries as examples, particularly for those countries with increasing cases.
Success in these four countries came down to political commitment, reaching marginalized populations and efficiently using resources, such as bed nets and drugs, Robb explained. In many parts of Africa, “large numbers of people still do not have access.”
In the high-burden African countries, the people most in need — marginalized and vulnerable communities — are unable to access treatment and prevention resources, he added, leaving them prone to infection. In 2017, an estimated half of the people at-risk of the disease in Africa did not sleep under a treated net, according to the report.
“We have distributed tools where we can,” said Dyann Wirth, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Now, strategies should be rethought, as there are issues to address differently, she said.
“If we just keep doing the same thing, we risk having a significant rebound,” Wirth said.