In its 2022 Malaria report on the African Region, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has noted that Africa recorded progress in its fight against malaria, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statistics provided in the report point out that malaria deaths fell as compared to the previous years. However, the officials noted that new treatments are needed to keep the fight on, because new vectors are posing a challenge and there is need for a constant upgrade in the treatment of the disease.
In a virtual press conference to unveil the report to the media in Africa on December 19, Dr. Dorothy Fosah Achu, Team Lead for Tropical and Vector-Borne Diseases Unit, Universal Health Coverage – Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases Cluster, WHO Regional Office for Africa, told reporters that during the pandemic period, progress was recorded, despite fears that the fight against the pandemic could negatively influence the fight against malaria. She noted that malaria-related deaths dropped because the mechanisms put in place ensured strong national commitments aimed at vector control and treatment. She noted that there were 234 million recorded malaria cases in Africa within the study period and of that number the disease killed 593000 persons. The report also noted that 78.9 percent of those killed by malaria were children under the age of five.
The global report revealed that due to the strong commitment to the fight against malaria, 950,000 deaths were averted in 2020, while in 2021, 1,000,000 deaths were averted, 95 percent of the averted deaths were in Africa.
On control efforts, the report presented by Dr. Dorothy Achu also revealed that only 60 percent of the treated mosquito nets were distributed due to the challenges posed by the pandemic and other factors. However, it was also revealed that at least 61 percent of households had at least one mosquito net. However, while noting that the number of houses using mosquito nets has increased, Dr. Dorothy regretted that the number generally is still low. It was also noted that the number of diagnosis done in the course of the year also increased, as compared to the previous years.
Mention was equally made of the malaria vaccine that was unveiled in its pilot phase in three countries. Dr Dorothy outlined that though there is success recorded in the use of the vaccine, there is still a need for other measures to be employed so as to complement the vaccine, to ensure success in the fight against malaria. She revealed that the vaccine will be rolled out to other countries for use too. “The vaccine is not a magic bullet”, she said, while stating that it helped usher in a 30 percent reduction in cases. The need for children to take all four doses of the vaccine was equally emphasised. Some 19 countries are already lining up to take up the vaccine. During the press event, it was equally noted that Cape Verde has continued to keep a clean slate of not recording a single malaria case since 2018.
New Treatment Needed to Tackle New Vectors
The malaria report equally revealed that though the fight against the disease is on the right footing in spite of challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, new vectors of the disease are coming into Africa and as such, new treatments need to be developed to effectively tackle the disease.
It was equally revealed that there are studies in the pipeline that will eventually usher in new treatments that respond to the new as well as changing nature of the vectors.
While presenting the various strides and obstacles faced in the fight against malaria, it was noted that reduced funding, disruption due to COVID-19, health system challenges, and decline in the effectiveness control tools among others continue to perturb the fight against the disease.