Within the next four years, six nations in Africa – the region where malaria is most prominent – could be free of the disease, the World Health Organization said in a report published Monday to mark World Malaria Day.
The “Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030”, approved by the WHO last year, hoped to see an end to local transmission of malaria in at least 10 countries by 2020, but now the WHO estimates that 21 countries could achieve that goal, including six in Africa.
“Since the year 2000, malaria mortality rates have declined by 60% globally. In the WHO African Region, malaria mortality rates fell by 66% among all age groups and by 71% among children under 5 years,” the WHO said in a statement accompanying the report.
The six countries in Africa that could be rid of malaria by 2020 are Algeria, Botswana, Cape Verde, Comoros, South Africa and Swaziland.
WHO says malaria infection rates are falling thanks to the use of insecticide-treated bed-nets, regular bug spraying inside dwellings and rapid diagnostic testing, though these techniques are becoming less effective as time goes on.
“The efficacy of the tools that secured the gains against malaria in the early years of this century is now threatened,” the WHO said. “Mosquito resistance to insecticides used in nets and indoor residual spraying is growing. So too is parasite resistance to a component of one of the most powerful antimalarial medicines.”
While the outlook is promising, the group cautioned that nearly half of the world’s population – around 3.2 billion people – are still at risk of contracting malaria. Just last year, 214 million new cases of malaria were reported in 95 countries. More than 400,000 people died from the disease.
The report says 9 out of ten deaths from malaria in 2015 came from sub-Saharan Africa.
Moving forward, the WHO said new technologies will need to be developed to deal with the disease and the fight will require strong political commitment and financing from governments.
“Reaching the goals of the ‘Global Technical Strategy’ will require a steep increase in global and domestic funding—from $2.5 billion today to an estimated $8.7 billion annually by 2030,” it said.