Despite unprecedented global success in malaria control, progress has stalled and the world is not on track to reach critical milestones of ridding itself of the disease, largely due to insufficient funding, World Health Organization (WHO) warned.
In its World Malaria Report 2017, WHO revealed that the number of malaria cases worldwide is estimated to be 216 million in 91 countries, up from 211 million cases in 2015. The estimated global tally of malaria deaths reached 445,000 in 2016, compared with 446,000 the previous year.
Though the rate of new cases had fallen overall, since 2014 the trend has leveled off and even reversed in some regions. Malaria mortality rates followed a similar pattern.
African continues to bear an estimated 90 percent of all malaria cases and deaths worldwide. Fifteen countries -- all but one in sub-Saharan Africa -- carry 80 percent of the global malaria burden, according to the report.
"In recent years, we have made major gains in the fight against malaria," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "We are now at a turning point. Without urgent action, we risk going backwards and missing the global malaria targets for 2020 and beyond."
The WHO calls for reductions of at least 40 percent in malaria case incidence and mortality rates by 2020, but the report shows that the world is not on track to reach these critical milestones.
A major problem is insufficient funding at both domestic and international levels, resulting in major gaps in coverage of insecticide-treated nets, medicines, and other life-saving tools, it said.
The report claims that an estimated 2.7 billion U.S. dollars was invested in malaria control and elimination efforts globally in 2016, which is still well below the annual investment of 6.5 billion U.S. dollars required by 2020 to meet the 2030 targets of the WHO global malaria strategy.
Also in many areas, access to the public health system remains low. National-level surveys in the African region show that only about one third of children with a fever are taken to a medical provider in the public health sector.
"We are at a crossroads in the response to malaria," said Dr. Pedro Alonso, director of the Global Malaria Program. "We hope this report serves as a wake-up call for the global health community. Robust financing for the research and development of new tools is equally critical."