WHO Warns Climate Change Could Undo Progress in Malaria Prevention

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a warning that malaria cases have increased globally, despite more people having access to preventive measures. The WHO said that the COVID-19 pandemic, humanitarian crises, drug and insecticide resistance, and climate change were among the factors that contributed to the rise of the disease.

According to the 2023 World Malaria Report, which was released at the start of the UN climate change conference, COP28, there were 249 million new malaria cases in 2022, up from 247 million in 2021 and 233 million in 2016. The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the changing climate posed a significant risk to the fight against malaria, especially in vulnerable regions.

He called for sustainable and resilient malaria responses, as well as urgent actions to slow down global warming and reduce its effects. “The changing climate poses a substantial risk to progress against malaria, particularly in vulnerable regions. Sustainable and resilient malaria responses are needed now more than ever, coupled with urgent actions to slow the pace of global warming and reduce its effects,” he said.

The report also explored the link between climate change and malaria, noting that higher temperature, humidity and rainfall could affect the behaviour and survival of the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits the parasite. Extreme weather events, such as heatwaves and flooding, could also impact the transmission and the disease burden. For example, the report said that the devastating 2022 flooding in Pakistan led to a five-fold increase in malaria cases in the country.

Other countries that saw significant increases in malaria cases were Ethiopia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Uganda. The report also said that climate variability could have indirect effects on malaria trends, due to factors such as reduced access to essential malaria services and disruptions to the supply chain of insecticide-treated nets, medicines and vaccines.