Progress in the fight against malaria has stalled, according to a new report from the World Health Organization. But with the help of partners, the UN body just launched a country-led response to fight the disease.
The effort will increase investment in malaria prevention and treatment to protect those who are most vulnerable to the disease.
For the second year in a row, the annual report by the WHO, published yesterday, shows that the number of people impacted by malaria has plateaued. In 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria and 217 million the year before.
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Previously, the number of people diagnosed with malaria had seen a major drop — from 239 million in 2010 to 214 million in 2015.
The disease, which is caused by parasites spread through infected mosquitos, puts nearly half of the world's population at risk. In 2017, 435,000 people died from malaria.
"Nobody should die from malaria. But the world faces a new reality: as progress stagnates, we are at risk of squandering years of toil, investment, and success in reducing the number of people suffering from the disease," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement.
"We recognize we have to do something different — now. So today we are launching a country-focused and -led plan to take comprehensive action against malaria by making our work more effective where it counts most — at local level."
Approximately 70% of malaria cases are concentrated in just 11 countries, including ten countries across Africa, where the number of cases rose by 3.5 million between 2016 and 2017. India, which also has high rates of malaria, has seen some progress on the disease.
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Sub-Saharan Africa, which faces the highest rates of extreme poverty, also sees the highest rates of malaria. In 2015, the region saw 90% of the world's malaria cases and 92% of deaths from the disease. Young children are among the most vulnerable — children under age 5 account for more than two-thirds of malaria deaths.
But the report did offer some glimmers of progress. Paraguay was recently certified malaria-free, and the number of countries on their way to eradication continues to grow.
However, there is still much work to be done to prevent malaria and ensure all communities have access to life-saving treatment. To keep up with the global malaria strategy, which aims to reduce malaria cases and mortality rates by at least 90%, investments in fighting the disease must double, according to the WHO.