More than 90 per cent of malaria control programmes are on track this year, despite restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, new data has found.
Deliveries of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, spraying, and preventive treatments for children and pregnant women across Africa, Asia and the Americas are all going ahead as planned, according to the RBM Partnership to End Malaria.
The interventions are likely to save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Many global health experts had feared that disruptions to health services caused by the pandemic and associated lockdowns could see what has been described as a "catastrophic" spike in malaria infections.
The disease, spread by mosquitoes, already kills 400,000 people annually - 90 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africa, and the majority under the age of five.
The World Health Organization warned in April that malaria deaths could double if essential programmes were disrupted.
Now, while cases and mortality rates are still expected to rise as a result of disruptions to health services, it is hoped that the worst case scenario has been avoided.
Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, chief executive of the RBM Partnership, the largest global platform tackling the killer disease, said: “This year, under the worst of circumstances, countries have proven they don’t need to choose between protecting populations from Covid-19 or malaria; they can – and should – do both."
For example, more than 200 million long-lasting insecticide-treated nets are set to be distributed this year in more than 30 nations, including Benin, Sierra Leone and South Sudan, where door-to-door net distribution campaigns sprang up during the pandemic.
Dr Diallo added: "Despite the unprecedented challenges faced, it is a remarkable achievement that countries and their partners around the world have successfully sustained planned malaria efforts – including distributing record numbers of insecticide-treated nets and continuing the march to zero malaria – ensuring that communities remain protected from the deadly mosquito bite.”
Twenty million children across the Sahel region will be protected by seasonal malaria chemoprevention campaigns across 12 countries, and 300,000 children have been immunised in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana since the launch of the pilot vacccination programme last year.
Countries which had registered zero malaria cases for three consecutive years, including El Salvador and China, have managed to maintain their status, too.
However, there are still worrying rises in cases among the most vulnerable, experts said.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said it was "extremely concerned" about the rise of both malaria and cholera, particularly among displaced people.
Last year, there were 5,080 malaria cases in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in July and August. This year, in the six weeks to August 23, the IRC recorded 13,898 cases.
British Foreign Office minister Wendy Morton, speaking at the UN General Assembly this week, said it was imperative to try to reach even the hardest to access.
"During this pandemic and beyond, essential malaria services must continue, malaria patients must be protected from other health threats, and health must receive adequate attention and funding," she said.
"We must collaborate, invest in what works, and continue to do all we can to protect the most vulnerable."
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