by Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga
China is the first country in the Western Pacific region that was certified malaria-free by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Beijing closely cooperates with the WHO on the global malaria control program, Daniel Ngamije, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
Ngamije, former minister of health of Rwanda, said that China has “achieved an exceptional status by being declared malaria-free in June 2021 by the WHO, becoming the first country in the Western Pacific region to obtain this certification in over 30 years.”
Published by the WHO on Thursday, the opening day of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, the “World Malaria Report 2023” highlights the correlation between climate change and the spread of malaria. Temperature, humidity and precipitation variations influence the behavior of the Anopheles mosquitoes, which are malaria vectors, and directly impact transmission and morbidity.
According to Ngamijie, “despite notable progress in expanding access to insecticide-treated mosquito nets and preventive medications, the number of malaria cases increased from 233 million in 2019 to 249 million in 2022.”
He said this alarming increase was due to various factors, including growing resistance to artemisinin-based drugs and insecticides, humanitarian crises, resource shortages, the effects of climate change and delays in implementing programs, especially in high-burden regions.
“In 2022, an additional five million malaria cases were recorded compared to the previous year, mainly concentrated in five countries,” he said. “Pakistan recorded the highest increase, followed by Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda and Papua New Guinea.”
“Climate change poses a major risk to progress in the fight against malaria, especially in vulnerable regions,” he noted.
The 2023 report recalls the gradual deployment of the first WHO-recommended antimalarial vaccine, RTS, S/AS01, in three African countries (Malawi, Ghana and Kenya), showing promising results. According to the document, a rigorous evaluation revealed a significant decrease in severe malaria cases and a 13 percent reduction in deaths among young children in vaccinated areas. In October 2023, the WHO recommended a second vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, further strengthening vaccination efforts across Africa.
Progress is also reported towards the elimination of malaria in many low-burden countries. In 2022, 34 countries reported fewer than 1,000 cases, marking significant progress since the year 2000, according to WHO.