The Annual 2023 WHO Report on Malaria that has been released now has put the spotlight on a concerning trend: despite advancements in preventive measures, the global incidence of malaria has surged, with climate change emerging as a significant contributor.
In 2022, the world witnessed an estimated 249 million cases of malaria, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by 16 million cases. The COVID-19 disruptions compounded existing challenges in malaria control, including drug resistance, humanitarian crises, and resource constraints. Notably, climate change impacts have emerged as a growing concern, exacerbating the situation.
2023 WHO Report on Malaria: Climate Change Amplifying Malaria Threat
The WHO report underscores the intersection between climate change and malaria. Fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and rainfall significantly affect the behavior and survival of the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits malaria. Extreme weather events like heatwaves and flooding directly impact disease transmission, as witnessed in Pakistan, where catastrophic floods led to a five-fold increase in malaria cases.
WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, emphasized the substantial risk climate change poses to malaria control efforts. The report highlights that climate variability indirectly affects malaria trends by disrupting essential services and supply chains, while population displacement further amplifies malaria transmission risks.
Impact on Global Malaria Burden
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted malaria services, resulting in a surge of five million additional cases in 2022, particularly in countries like Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Uganda. Despite stabilization in high-burden countries aided by WHO initiatives, progress towards global malaria strategy milestones for 2025 remains significantly off track.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, emphasized the need to confront multifaceted challenges impeding malaria response efforts, including climate variability, limited healthcare access, conflicts, and inadequate funding.
Signs of Progress Amid Challenges
Amid these challenges, there are glimmers of progress. The 2023 WHO Malaria report highlights successful roll-outs of malaria vaccines, showcasing substantial reductions in severe malaria and childhood deaths in vaccinated areas. Additionally, several countries, including Azerbaijan, Belize, and Tajikistan, have achieved malaria-free certification, with others nearing elimination.
Call for Immediate Action
The 2023 WHO report calls for a substantial shift in malaria combat strategies, stressing increased resources, political commitment, data-driven approaches, and innovation for more efficient and affordable products. Moreover, it emphasizes the urgent need for sustainable and resilient malaria responses that align with climate change mitigation efforts, necessitating comprehensive societal engagement.
As the world marks another year combating malaria, urgent action and collaborative efforts are imperative to mitigate the growing threat exacerbated by climate change and ensure progress towards a malaria-free future.