MeraNews Network, Mumbai: The latest World Health Organisation (WHO) World Malaria Report has suggested that reductions in malaria cases have stalled after several years of decline globally, even though several countries, including India, have shown progress.

In 2017, approximately 70 percent of all malaria cases (151 million) and deaths (274 000) were concentrated in 11 countries: 10 in Africa (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania) and India. There were 3.5 million more malaria cases reported in these 10 African countries in 2017 compared to the previous year, while India, however, showed progress in reducing its disease burden.

For the second consecutive year, the annual report produced by WHO reveals a plateauing in numbers of people affected by malaria: in 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria, compared to 217 million the year before. But in the years prior, the number of people contracting malaria globally had been steadily falling, from 239 million in 2010 to 214 million in 2015.

“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,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “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 the local level.”

However, the report highlights some positive progress. The number of countries nearing elimination continues to grow (46 in 2017 compared to 37 in 2010). Meanwhile, in China and El Salvador, where malaria had long been endemic, no local transmission of malaria was reported in 2017.

The number of countries nearing elimination has now grown from 37 to 46, and three countries - Algeria, Argentina and Uzbekistan - have requested official malaria-free certification from the WHO. In 2018, WHO certified Paraguay as malaria-free, the first country in the Americas to receive this status in 45 years. Three other countries – Algeria, Argentina, and Uzbekistan – have requested official malaria-free certification from WHO. India – a country that represents 4 percent of the global malaria burden – recorded a 24 percent reduction in cases in 2017 compared to 2016. Also in Rwanda, 4,36 000 fewer cases were recorded in 2017 compared to 2016. Ethiopia and Pakistan both reported marked decreases of more than 2,40 000 in the same period.

“When countries prioritize action on malaria, we see the results in lives saved and cases reduced,” says Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “WHO and global malaria control partners will continue striving to help governments, especially those with the highest burden, scale up the response to malaria."

The report added that India and Indonesia were on track to achieve a 20-40 percent reduction in case-incidence by 2020. The WHO and its partners have launched a country-led 'high burden to high impact' response plan "to coincide with the release of the report" with the aim of scaling up prevention, treatment and investment to protect vulnerable people, and get reductions in malaria deaths and disease back on track. The plan builds on the principle that no one should die from a disease that can be easily prevented and diagnosed, and that is entirely curable with available treatments.

"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," Ghebreyesus said. "We recognise we have to do something different now," Ghebreyesus said.

Domestic financing has been identified as key to the success of the WHO's malaria strategy. The UN agency says that funding, which has levelled off, needs to reach at least USD 6.6 billion annually by 2020 - more than double the amount available today. Malaria kills an estimated 6,60,000 people each year.