World Malaria Day is celebrated on 25th April each year. This year it is being celebrated under the theme “Time to deliver zero malaria: invest, innovate, implement” with the focus on ‘implement’.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease spread to humans by some types of mosquitoes. It is mostly found in tropical countries. It is preventable and curable.
Symptoms can be mild or life-threatening. Mild symptoms are fever, chills and headache. Severe symptoms include fatigue, confusion, seizures, and difficulty breathing.
Infants, children under 5 years, pregnant women, travellers and people with HIV or AIDS are at higher risk of severe infection.
Malaria can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites and with medicines. Treatments can stop mild cases from getting worse.
Malaria mostly spreads to people through the bites of some infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Blood transfusion and contaminated needles may also transmit malaria. The first symptoms may be mild, similar to many febrile illnesses, and difficulty to recognize as malaria. Left untreated, P. falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness and death within 24 hours.
There are 5 Plasmodium parasite species that cause malaria in humans and 2 of these species – P. falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat. P. falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent. P. vivax is the dominant malaria parasite in most countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa. The other malaria species which can infect humans are P. malariae, P. ovale and P. knowlesi.
According to the latest World malaria report, published in December 2022, malaria claimed the lives of an estimated 619 000 people in 2021, compared to 625 000 in 2020. There were some 247 million new cases of malaria in 2021 compared to 245 million in 2020.
The WHO African Region continues to shoulder the heaviest burden of the disease – accounting, in 2021, for an estimated 95% of all malaria cases (234 million) and 96% of all deaths (593 000). Nearly 80% of malaria deaths in the African Region were among children under the age of 5.
According to WHO’s World malaria report 2022, the funding gap between the amount invested in the global malaria response (US$ 3.5 billion) and the resources needed (US$ 7.3 billion) has widened, particularly over the past 3 years – increasing from a shortfall of US$ 2.6 billion in 2019 to US$ 3.5 billion in 2020 and US$ 3.8 billion in 2021.
In this resource-constrained environment, a better targeting of available funding is essential. Funding should be prioritized for the most vulnerable populations who are less able to access services and hardest hit when they become ill. Adequate and predictable financing is essential to sustain progress in efforts to combat malaria.
Despite recent setbacks in malaria control, investments in R&D played a crucial role in reducing the global burden of malaria over the last 2 decades. The development and massive roll-out of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) have been the backbone of the malaria response since 2000. Continued investment in the development and deployment of next-generation tools will be key to achieving the 2030 global malaria targets.
In the field of antimalarial medicines, developing non-ACT treatment options is a priority for researchers in the face of the emergence and spread of partial resistance to artemisinin. Next-generation medicines are in the development pipeline – such as “triple ACTs” that rely on a combination of artemisinin and 2 partner drugs to mitigate the risk of drug resistance. Other medicines under evaluation use different chemical entities as an alternative to artemisinin and its derivates; four such medicines are currently in clinical trials.
According to the latest World malaria report, countries have made some progress in expanding access to malaria services for most-at-risk populations. However, too many people at high risk of malaria are still missing out on the services they need to prevent, detect and treat the disease.
According to the World malaria report 2022:
- Just over half (53%) of children under 5 years of age and pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa slept under an insecticide-treated net (ITN) in 2021.
- Only one third (35%) of pregnant women received the WHO-recommended 3-dose regimen of intermittent preventive therapy in 2021 – a figure that has remained largely unchanged in recent years.
- About one third of children with a fever (35%) were not taken to a health provider for any form of care or treatment, based on household surveys in sub-Saharan Africa conducted between 2015 and 2021, and poorer households were less likely to seek care for their febrile child. Less than 1% of children access treatment from community health workers.
- In the face of high demand for the malaria vaccine initial supply is limited, thereby limiting the impact that can be achieved.
Challenges in expanding access to malaria services have been compounded, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, converging humanitarian crises, restricted funding, weak surveillance systems, and declines in the effectiveness of core malaria-fighting tools.
In June 2022, WHO updated its recommendations for 3 key chemoprevention strategies.
- Seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) is recommended for children living in areas with highly seasonal malaria transmission in Africa.
- Perennial malaria chemoprevention (PMC) is recommended for young children living in areas where malaria is a year-round disease, and where transmission is high.
- Intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy (IPTp) is recommended for all pregnant women living in areas of moderate-to-high malaria transmission in Africa.
Link to the World Malaria Day site:
Link to WHO fact sheet on Malaria:
Link to WHO’s malaria health topic page: