On December 13, the WHO released the World Malaria Report 2016, an annual report that tracks the progress and trends in malaria control and elimination at a global, regional and national level. Using data from 91 countries with malaria transmission and the help of numerous partners, the report indicates that children and pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa have greater access to effective tools against malaria. “The news are very positive” says Clara Menéndez, director of the Maternal, Child and Reproductive Health Initiative at ISGlobal, “first, because it affects two of the most vulnerable populations to malaria in the world, African children and pregnant women, and secondly, because it reflects that a collaborative effort between ministries of health and many partners is possible and may achieve positive results.”
Namely, the report indicates that in the last five years there has been a 77% increase in diagnostic testing for children seeking care at a public health facility, “something that will improve the management of malaria and will help reduce the development of drug resistance” says Menéndez. Furthermore, the number of pregnant women receiving the recommended preventive treatment has increased five-fold. “Although intermittent preventive treatment or IPTp represents the cornerstone of malaria prevention during pregnancy, it has extremely low coverage despite its low cost. This remarkable increase is a big achievement and provides hope that we are moving in the right direction”, adds Menéndez, “although much effort needs to be done if we want to achieve the target of more than 80% African pregnant women receiving 3 doses of IPTp in 4 years from now.”
Indeed, the report warns that there is much work yet to be done. In 2015 one child still died of malaria every 2 minutes and 90% of these deaths occurred in Africa. Less than half of the 91 countries with malaria transmission are on track for achieving a 40% reduction in malaria case incidence and mortality by 2020. In countries with a high malaria burden, those most at risk of malaria have limited access to health facilities. While emerging insecticide and drug resistance represent new challenges, global funding for the fight against malaria has flat-lined (the current funding represents only 45% of the amount needed to reach the 2020 target).
In order to accelerate the progress towards disease elimination, the WHO underlines the need to improve and develop new tools. Among them are the RTS,S vaccine that received earlier this year the necessary funding to perform three pilot trials in Africa starting in 2018. Moreover, the WHO underlines the key role of a strong country leadership and of the collaboration between all partners in the fight against malaria.