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Concerns over COVID impact on malaria mortality

Burnet Institute

07 December, 2021

While new World Health Organization (WHO) data shows the impacts of COVID-19 on malaria mortality in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 were not as devastating as feared, Burnet’s Professor James Beeson is concerned that more pronounced impacts may be seen in the future.

And Professor Beeson has warned that a significant boost in funding and investment, and new tools and strategies are urgently needed to make progress against malaria.

The comments follow the release of WHO’s latest World malaria report, which showed that the worst-case scenario projected by WHO – a doubling of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa – did not eventuate in 2020.

“I think there was widespread anticipation globally that malaria would go up as a result of the impact of COVID. It has gone up, but perhaps not as bad as was feared. So that’s a positive,” Professor Beeson, Burnet Deputy Director and Head, Malaria Immunity and Vaccines Group, said.

Despite the more positive than expected data, the report stated that moderate disruptions to malaria services did lead to a marked increase in cases and deaths in 2020 compared to the previous year.

There were an estimated 241 million malaria cases and 627,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020, which represents around 14 million more cases in 2020 compared to 2019, and 69,000 more deaths, mostly among young children.

Approximately two thirds of these additional deaths (47 000) were linked to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.

The report states that urgent action taken by countries to shore up their malaria programs, averted the worst-case scenario in 2020.

However, Professor Beeson said COVID-19’s impacts on malaria death rates could intensify in the coming year.

“While the World malaria report is being released late 2021, it actually covers the 2020 period,” Professor Beeson said.

“This year the COVID pandemic has continued to progress in Africa, so I am concerned that we’ll see a further increase in malaria death rates in the next report.”

Professor Beeson said while efforts towards malaria elimination across much of Asia are progressing well, it’s clear in other parts of the world they have stalled.

Data from WHO show that progress in reducing the malaria burden globally had already stalled since 2015.

According to WHO data, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry the heaviest malaria burden, accounting for about 95 per cent of all malaria cases and 96 per cent of all deaths in 2020.

About 80 per cent of deaths in the region are among children under five years of age.

“The level of financing or funding available for malaria is way below what’s needed,” Professor Beeson said. “It’s probably only about half of what’s actually needed to really make major progress against malaria.

“That’s been highlighted by WHO - we need new tools, new strategies to more effectively combat malaria and make major progress going into the future. So, investment in research and development continues to be a high priority.”

Find out more about Burnet’s malaria research and how you can support this life-saving work.

CLICK HERE to read the WHO World Malaria Report.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor James Beeson

Deputy Director (People); Head of Malaria Immunity and Vaccines Laboratory; Adjunct Professor Monash University

Telephone

+61385062442

Email

[email protected]

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