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Global malaria cases surpass pre-COVID levels

Global malaria cases surpass pre-COVID levels


December 02, 2023

2 min read

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Key takeaways:

  • The 249 million malaria cases globally in 2022 exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels by more than 16 million cases.
  • WHO’s 2023 malaria report links climate change to a significant risk of increased malaria transmission.

Globally, cases of malaria in 2022 surpassed the level recorded the year before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO reported this week.

The estimated 249 million cases reported last year exceeded the 2019 total by 16 million cases, according to WHO’s annual malaria report.


Data derived from WHO’s 2023 annual malaria report.

The rollout of the first of two approved malaria vaccines has already led to reductions in severe malaria and a 13% drop in early childhood deaths from all causes compared with areas where the vaccine has not yet been introduced, according to the report.

The report raises concerns about the current and future effects of climate variability — heat waves and flooding that can directly affect transmission, and also indirect effects such as reduced access to malaria services, disruptions of medical supply chains and potential population displacement linked to climate.

“The changing climate poses a substantial risk to progress against malaria, particularly in vulnerable regions,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said in a press release. “Sustainable and resilient malaria responses are needed now more than ever, coupled with urgent actions to slow the pace of global warming and reduce its effects.”

According to the report, there was an increase of 5 million malaria cases in 2022 over 2021. The largest increase occurred in Pakistan, where cases increased to 2.6 million in 2022 from 500,000 in 2021.

Although significant increases also occurred in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Uganda, the 11 nations with the highest malaria burdens — Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, India, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania — saw rates of new infections and deaths level off since the first year of the pandemic.

Six of those 11 nations and six others in Africa have started receiving the first shipments of GSK’s RST,S/AS01, the world’s first malaria vaccine to gain approval.

WHO recommended a second malaria vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, in October. Rollout and recommendations for that vaccine are expected sometime in early 2024.

WHO noted that it has “declared climate change the single biggest health threat facing humanity.” Direct effects of climate change on malaria include temperature variation, rainfall and humidity, all of which can increase risk for spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria.

“It is crucial to recognize the multitude of threats that impede our [malaria] response efforts,” Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, MSc, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said in the release. “Climate variability poses a substantial risk, but we must also contend with challenges such as limited health care access, ongoing conflicts and emergencies, the lingering effects of COVID-19 on service delivery, inadequate funding and uneven implementation of our core malaria interventions.”





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