The Good News and Bad News from the WHO’s Newest Malaria Report

Yesterday, the World Health Organization released the 2010 World Malaria report. Overall, it’s surprisingly good news. Malaria has been a persistent, awful threat to human health, in particular to pregnant women. We’re finally showing some progress in slowing it down.

The report highlights substantial reductions in malaria incidence and mortality:

“In Africa, a total of 11 countries showed a greater than 50% reduction in either confirmed malaria cases or malaria admissions and deaths over the past decade. A decrease of more than 50% in the number of confirmed cases of malaria was also found in 32 of the 56 malaria-endemic countries outside Africa during this same time period, while downward trends of 25%–50% were seen in eight additional countries.”

That’s big news.

Turkmenistan was certified malaria-free in 2009. I’m not all that impressed – malaria never broke the low double-digits in Turkmenistan, and certification was mostly about better record-keeping. Morocco, however, was also certified malaria-free last year, and that’s bigger news.

Possibly related to the malaria reductions: financial commitment to battling malaria was at its highest ever in 2009, at $1.5 billion. 2009 also saw highest-ever rates of insecticide treated bednet ownership, and better provision of anti-malarial drugs.

Now the bad news: malaria treatment is going to have to change. It used to be safe to assume that everyone in a malaria-prevalent country with a fever had malaria, and should receive malaria treatment automatically. With the increase in resistance to anti-malarial drugs, that’s no longer an option. The WHO now recommends that “all suspected cases of malaria be confirmed by a diagnostic test before antimalarial drugs are administered.” That is going to require a concerted push to give first line health care providers to effective diagnostic testing for malaria.

(photo credit: Pennstatelive)