23 April 2021 | Statements

World Malaria Day : Unitaid commits to ensure increased and equitable access to life-saving tools against malaria

Geneva – Ahead of World Malaria Day, marked annually on April 25, Unitaid reaffirms its strong commitment to combat malaria by increasing its efforts to prevent, control, and ultimately eliminate the disease.

The emergence of COVID-19 more than one year ago has thrown health systems into disarray and forced many countries to shift their focus and resources away from malaria. This threatens to reverse hard-won gains, particularly in the highest malaria burden countries where the rate of progress has slowed in recent years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns countries that disruptions to programmes that prevent and treat malaria could lead to a potential doubling of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 compared to 2018.

A new report by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria highlights the urgent need to scale-up the adaptative measures adopted to counter the impact of COVID-19 to ensure the continuing delivery of lifesaving health services for malaria.

“Despite being preventable and curable, malaria kills more than 400 000 people each year, most of them children. Beating COVID-19 should not come at the expense of advancing progress against this disease” said Dr Philippe Duneton, Unitaid Executive Director. “Now more than ever, we need to redouble our efforts to bring down the malaria burden globally by making life-saving, innovative tools available for the people who need them the most.”.

As long as malaria exists, it will continue burdening the most vulnerable, and perpetuating poverty and inequality. Efforts to control and eliminate this disease directly contribute to the health and economic prosperity of communities, increasing their capacity to tackle new and unexpected health challenges.

Countries that invested in malaria control and elimination now benefit from reinforced health systems, strengthened case management and surveillance, which has improved their ability to respond to outbreaks like COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, malaria prevention efforts have become even more critical to reduce transmission and strain on overburdened health systems. Against this backdrop, Unitaid has quickly adapted, strengthened its malaria prevention investments and focused on continuity of services.

The report released by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria highlights that antenatal first care visits fell by 43% in 2020 compared to 2019 due to COVID-19. The Unitaid-funded TIPTOP project has facilitated the delivery of life-saving antimalarial treatment to pregnant women by using an innovative community-based approach.

Other projects aimed at developing new tools for malaria prevention have also made great strides. The AEGIS project is initiating studies in Kenya, Mali, and Sri Lanka to evaluate the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of new spatial repellents to better prevent malaria.

Through the BOHEMIA project, trials are planned in Mozambique and Tanzania to test if a treatment that kills the mosquito after biting a human or livestock, can contribute to reducing the malaria burden.

Upcoming initiatives will seek to address relapsing Plasmodium vivax (P.vivax) malaria in countries close to elimination throughout Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

In 2018, global investments to end malaria have saved 600 000 lives and prevented close to 100 million malaria cases compared to 2000 levels. In the Asia-Pacific region, weighing against the epidemiological and economic costs of inaction, Wellcome Trust researchers estimated that eliminating malaria by 2030 could save over 400,000 lives, prevent 123 million malaria cases, and lead to a 6:1 return on investment.

Now is the moment to step up efforts to support the development of crucial innovations in the field of malaria and ensure they are made available for all, everywhere.

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Media contacts:

Thalia Bayle, tel. +41 79 660 56 37, baylet@unitaid.who.int

Hervé Verhoosel, tel. +41 79 249 3529, verhooselh@unitaid.who.int

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