Continuing determined action is needed for malaria rates to fall by more than 50 per cent by 2023 to meet the target set out by Commonwealth leaders, the Secretary-General urged on World Malaria Day.
In 2018, leaders committed to halving malaria across the 54 member countries over the next five years during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. This reduction would prevent millions of malaria cases and save thousands of lives.
In the three years since the commitment, substantial progress has been made. By the end of 2019, nearly one-third of malaria-endemic countries in the Commonwealth were on track to halve their case incidence and mortality rate from the disease.
According to the 2019 World Health Organization report, India and Uganda saw reductions of 2.6 and 1.5 million malaria cases respectively in 2018 compared with 2017. Nigeria reported the largest decrease in malaria deaths.
During the COVID-19 response, Commonwealth countries made significant efforts to maintain malaria programmes while ensuring that communities and health workers were protected from the virus.
However, more than one year into the pandemic, contagion suppression measures such as lockdowns and border closures have continued to limit the delivery of mosquito nets, insect repellents and preventive medicines.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has made people everywhere far more aware of the very real challenges diseases present, and our vulnerabilities to them.
“COVID-19 has seized the world’s attention and resources, but it is also important for us to maintain focus on our pre-pandemic commitments such as on malaria. Allowing ourselves to be distracted would result in irreparable damage to major health gains and human security.
“This unprecedented moment in our history is a vital opportunity to renew our commitment and regain impetus in fighting this preventable and treatable disease, in order to reach the 2023 target and ultimately eradicate malaria.”
She said investing to prevent malaria is not just a health win, but it has multiple economic and development benefits. Africa, for example, loses $12 billion annually to malaria in the form of costs on healthcare, learning gaps and productivity losses.
Secretary-General Scotland said: “It is important to ensure that citizens have access to quality health services without financial hardship, particularly the most vulnerable young children and pregnant women, for their protection against malaria.”
Malaria will be a key focus next month when Commonwealth Health Ministers consult at their annual meeting ahead of the World Health Assembly in May 2021.
At the meeting, the Commonwealth Secretariat will present a new report on malaria which presents success stories from Commonwealth member countries and summarises progress towards meeting the 2023 target.