In Brief: Predicted doubling of malaria deaths in Africa averted

Workers at a factory producing insecticide-treated bednets in Arusha, Tanzania. Photo by: Katy Migiro / Reuters

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization predicted that malaria deaths in Africa could double if people’s access to malaria prevention programs and treatments were severely interrupted. “I am however delighted to say that the predicted doubling in malaria deaths was averted,” said Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, who chairs the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, during a press conference on Thursday.

Instead, over 90% of planned net distribution campaigns went forward over the past year and more children in areas of highly seasonal transmission were reached with antimalarial medicines than in previous years, according to a press release. Around 160 million nets were distributed door-to-door, which was done in adherence with COVID-19 protocols, Kenyatta said.

Why it matters: Africa accounts for about 90% of malaria cases globally. While the continent averted a doubling of deaths, progress in reducing malaria infections and deaths has slowed, especially in high burden countries, Kenyatta said. The continent is also off-track in achieving targets set to eliminate malaria on the continent by 2030. “The fight… is yet to be won. Indeed far from it,” Kenyatta said.

What’s next: During the press conference, African leaders called for more investment in anti-malaria efforts, with a focus on domestic financing, increased local manufacturing of malaria commodities, and increased coordination through regional economic communities. They also called for expanded access to health care, and the establishment of national malaria councils and funds that bring together senior leaders across all sectors to champion and hold accountable malaria elimination efforts.

The development of COVID-19 vaccines and the sharing of real-time data to inform decision-making during the pandemic provides instructive lessons for African countries in efforts to eliminate malaria, Kenyatta said.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a global health reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.