Climate Change Threatens Progress Against Malaria, Countries Warn at World Health Assembly

The fight against malaria is facing a new and urgent challenge as climate change and extreme weather events threaten to undermine decades of progress, according to warnings from several countries at the 77th World Health Assembly this week.

“Recent extreme weather events such as flooding in Malawi and other countries have intensified malaria transmission, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, told the assembly on Thursday.

France, a leader in the fight against malaria, expressed concern over the lack of funding for malaria response and called for integrating anti-malaria efforts into national health plans, emphasizing that the need for funding has become more urgent as climate change is “increasingly impacting health systems and making them more fragile.”

“We wish to highlight the importance of the One Health approach and the key role of community health workers in local surveillance and awareness of malaria,” the delegation said.

The introduction of new malaria-causing parasite species due to climate change is also putting populations at risk, particularly transitory migrant groups, Costa Rica warned. “We believe it’s essential for international bodies to take these variables into account when allocating resources, both for dealing with public health problems and regional and extra-regional migration,” the country’s delegation said.

Colombia echoed those concerns, noting that “rapidly changing ecosystems are increasing vulnerability and giving rise to new malaria transmission dynamics,” a problem compounded by “increasing migration patterns.”

Eliminating Malaria

Despite the challenges, several countries, including Egypt, Ecuador and Malawi, renewed their commitment to eliminating the disease. Papua New Guinea said partnerships had been crucial to its malaria control initiatives, which focus on prevention, diagnosis, treatment and community engagement.

Malawi is implementing a plan to eliminate malaria by 2030, while Cabo Verde recently became malaria-free, joining just 43 countries worldwide to achieve the milestone and be recognized with this certification by the WHO.

The WHO is adopting a multi-faceted strategy to fight malaria, including new guidelines for countries to prioritize interventions in resource-limited settings and a focus on emerging threats like drug resistance, Dr. Jérôme Salomon, the organization’s assistant director-general for universal health coverage, communicable and non-communicable diseases, said Thursday.

Salomon, reflecting on the achievements of malaria-free countries, stated that key strategies to accelerate progress include introducing new tools like a malaria vaccine and ensuring wider access to existing ones.

“Recent extreme weather events such as flooding in Malawi and other countries have intensified malaria transmission, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations,” Salomon said, emphasizing the urgency of addressing climate change through proactive mitigation, adaptation, and research.

Investments in primary health care are fundamental, he added, as are efforts to address various factors impacting malaria transmission, including inequities, conflicts, migration, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.

Although new tools are becoming available to fight malaria, several challenges are limiting their use, especially in Africa, said a representative from Chad, speaking on behalf of the 47 member states of the WHO’s African region. Chief among them, the delegate said, are shortfalls in funding.

In a joint statement, African countries pressed for greater political commitment and self-reliance in the fight against malaria, appealing for more predictable international aid that aligns with their national policies.

Sudan stressed the importance of tackling security issues to enable far-reaching malaria interventions, while Guinea urged partners to keep supporting immunization efforts and help end repeated malaria outbreaks.

Image Credits: WHO.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.