Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

The coronavirus pandemic has derailed the global campaign against malaria, increasing deaths from the mosquito-borne disease for the first time in three years. 

The number of malaria cases and deaths in 2020 were at least 40% higher than the Word Health Organization’s (WHO) targets, according to the agency, which said its 2030 goals are now at risk. 

“While African countries rallied to the challenge and averted the worst predictions of fallout from Covid-19, the pandemic’s knock-on effect still translates to thousands of lives lost to malaria,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said in a statement.

“African governments and their partners need to intensify their efforts so that we do not lose even more ground to this preventable disease,” Moeti said.

It is a blow for Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 95% of the world’s malaria cases. The disease kills about 400,000 people a year, most of them children under the age of five.

This echoes the burden the continent has carried during the pandemic, with the wider region also being the least vaccinated against Covid-19. 

Finding more effective inoculations against malaria has been a critical goal in fighting the infection. Last week, the vaccine alliance Gavi said it would fund a malaria vaccine rollout of Mosquirix, which was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and its partners and is the first to prove safe and effective in a large, late-stage trial.

The 627,000 lives lost to malaria in 2020, the highest number in nearly a decade, “must serve as a wake-up call in a world still struggling to win its fight against Covid-19”, said Gareth Jenkins, advocacy director at Malaria No More UK. 

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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