Rise in malaria cases sparks fears of a resurgence

By Amy Maxmen

The number of malaria cases rose in many countries in 2016, suggesting that progress has halted in the global fight against the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a report on 29 November1.

Globally, malaria infections increased by about 5 million from 2015 to 2016, for a total of 216 million, with apparent jumps in parts of Asia, Africa and South America. The number of people who died from the disease remained relatively steady, at around 445,000, the WHO found. Although data on malaria is often inexact in countries with weak health-care systems, many researchers are concerned by the trends described in the WHO report, which the agency attributes to flat funding levels for anti-malaria programmes.

“For the first time, we can confidently say that we have stopped making progress,” says Pedro Alonso, the director of the Global Malaria Programme at the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland. Alonso worries that governments and donors have become complacent about malaria, given that deaths from the disease fell by an estimated 62% between 2000 and 2015. “We know what happens when we stop applying pressure,” Alonso says. “Malaria comes back with a vengeance.”

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