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Africa accounted for 95% of malaria deaths worldwide in 2022 - WHO report

New findings published today by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2023 World Malaria Report have revealed that the number of malaria cases globally rose between 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2022.

The Anopheles gambiae group of mosquito species are currently the main drivers of malaria's spread in Africa
  • The World Malaria Report has revealed that global malaria cases rose by five million in 2022, reaching 249 million (compared to 2021).
  • The report confirms that case and death numbers were higher than before the pandemic, which caused devastating disruptions to health services.
  • Funding and increased action are urgently needed to save lives.

Cases rose by 16 million in this period, from 233 million to 249 million. This figure is now 7% higher than before the pandemic when cases were at 233 million.

According to the report, Africa continues to carry the highest burden of malaria overall, with 94% of malaria cases globally and 95% of deaths. However, the five million additional cases observed between 2021 and 2022 were mainly concentrated across five countries: Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda and Papua New Guinea.

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The report stated that there were an estimated 608,000 malaria deaths in 2022 compared to 576,000 in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic saw major disruptions to malaria services, and malaria incidence and mortality rates rose as a result. Since then, malaria-endemic countries have been able to stabilise rates again with the help of partners around the world. However, the data from WHO shows that the world is in a worse position with malaria now than it was prior to 2019.

This year, countries with low case numbers include Azerbaijan, Belize and Tajikistan, all of which were officially certified malaria-free. Cabo Verde, Timor-Leste, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan and Suriname also reported zero indigenous cases in 2022.

For the first time, WHO has also identified climate change as an increasing threat in the fight against malaria. According to the report, Malaria is extremely sensitive to climate change as temperature, rainfall and humidity all influence several dynamics of malaria transmission, including malaria vectorial capacity.

The report emphasised that climate change can additionally have numerous indirect effects on malaria transmission as a result of reduced access to essential health services and disruptions to the supply chain of critical malaria commodities (such as insecticide-treated nets and medicines), as well as population displacement and rising food insecurity and malnutrition.

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One of the anticipated impacts of climate change is that malaria cases will be seen in different geographies where cases are concentrated today. The report warns that a warming of places that are currently malaria-free could result in the disease emerging there; this has already been observed in the African highlands. The new areas impacted could be especially prone to malaria epidemics, given low immunity levels in the local populations. Meanwhile, other areas could experience fewer malaria cases as they acquire conditions unsuitable for mosquitoes.

The rise in extreme weather events experienced around the world is further expected to be problematic, potentially leading to large epidemics of malaria, as seen in Pakistan following the 2022 floods. Numerous indirect effects of climate change are also anticipated, as a result of displaced populations and interrupted supply chains and services.

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