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WHO Wants Malaria Money


FILE - A baby is given a shot on the first day of the malaria vaccine implementation pilot program, at Mitundu Community hospital in Malawi's capital district of Lilongwe. Taken April 23, 2019.

The World Health Organization called Thursday for more funds to help overcome towering challenges in the battle against malaria, which continues to kill hundreds of thousands of mainly African children each year.

In a fresh report, the UN health agency reported that malaria cases and deaths, which exploded in 2020 as the Covid-19 crisis hit protection and treatment efforts, remained stable at a stubbornly high level last year.

The stakes are particularly high in Africa, which counts 95 percent of the world's malaria cases and 96 percent of deaths.

The WHO report highlighted significant remaining challenges, including limited donor funding, the potential effect of climate change, and mutations in the parasite that causes malaria making it more resistant to treatment.

The push comes after malaria cases exploded in 2020 as the Covid-19 crisis hit protection and treatment efforts.

"We face many challenges, but there are many reasons for hope," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

"By strengthening the response, understanding and mitigating the risks, building resilience and accelerating research, there is every reason to dream of a malaria-free future."

WHO hailed the fact that many countries succeeded in maintaining and even increasing malaria testing and treatment during the pandemic, despite supply chain and logistical challenges.

In 2020, countries distributed a record number of insecticide-treated bed nets, which serve as the main vector control tool in most countries where malaria is endemic, and maintained strong distribution last year.

Malaria-endemic countries also distributed a record number of rapid diagnostic tests to health facilities in 2020, and delivered 223 million such tests last year -- around the same level as before the pandemic.

However, the report warned that the world was currently "off track" to reach its goal of reducing malaria cases and deaths by 90 percent by 2030, insisting funding should be more than doubled.

The WHO and the Global Fund said the way to combat such challenges was to close a yawning funding gap.

Total funding for fighting malaria stood at $3.5 billion last year.

That marked an increase from the two previous years, but fell far short of the $7.3 billion estimated to be required globally to stay on track to defeat the disease, WHO said.

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