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Malaria progress plateaus: WHO calls for reinvigorated action

This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its annual World Malaria Report. The publication provides an up-to-date assessment of the malaria burden on 87 countries and territories with ongoing malaria transmission, tracking investments, research and progress across all intervention areas.

Achievements over the past decade are impressive. Investments on prevention, diagnosis and treatment programmes have prevented 1.5 billion cases of malaria and saved 7.6 million lives. Progress was visible in all regions. The incidence of malaria in the Greater Mekong subregion, for example, dropped by 90% from 2000 to 2019.

However, the report also reminds us of how far we are from achieving a malaria-free world. Overall, the number of cases has remained stable at 229 million for the past four years. Although the number of deaths has decreased slightly, malaria claimed over 400,000 lives in 2019. Africa continues to carry most of the burden, accounting for approximately 90% of the total cases.
Existing tools used to combat the disease are not enough to eradicate malaria. Drugs and insecticide resistance is increasing, and the COVID-19 pandemic presents a severe additional challenge. Funding shortfalls also pose substantial threats to future progress.

One of the key messages of the report is the need for new tools to eradicate malaria. Recently, WHO also released a position paper supporting research on genetically modified mosquitoes for vector-borne diseases. Current uncertainties should not prematurely block the development of tools that, in conjunction with the methods in place, could save millions of humans lives and other species. Gene drive could be one of those tools, offering a cost-effective, sustainable, and long-term solution, enhancing the worldwide anti-malaria effort.

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