The World Health Organization has called for more funds to help overcome towering challenges in the battle against malaria, which continues to kill hundreds of thousands of mainly African children each year.
In a fresh report on Thursday, the UN health agency celebrated that malaria cases and deaths, which exploded in 2020 as the Covid-19 crisis hit protection and treatment efforts, remained stable at a stubbornly high level last year.
But it also highlighted significant remaining challenges, including limited donor funding, the potential effect of climate change, and mutations in the parasite that causes malaria making it more resistant to treatment.
"We face many challenges, but there are many reasons for hope," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
"By strengthening the response, understanding and mitigating the risks, building resilience and accelerating research, there is every reason to dream of a malaria-free future."
Global malaria deaths fell dramatically between 2000 and 2019 — when they stood at 568,000 — but suddenly shot up 10 percent during the first pandemic year in 2020 to 625,000, the report said.
Last year, despite the continuing impact of the pandemic, malaria deaths dipped slightly to 619,000.
Malaria cases, meanwhile, continued to rise last year to 247 million from 245 million in 2020, although the increase was less than the 13 million rise registered the year before.
Looking forward, there are a number of promising developments, including the first malaria vaccine, RTS,S, which has already been given to more than a million children and will become widely available next year.
While hailing the efforts made, the WHO stressed that huge challenges remained, including swelling mosquito resistance to the insecticides, insufficient numbers of bed nets, and the greater spread of parasite-bearing mosquitos.
The WHO and the Global Fund, which provides 63 percent of all international financing for malaria programmes, said the way to combat such challenges was to close a yawning funding gap.
Total funding for fighting malaria stood at $3.5 billion last year.
That marked an increase from the two previous years but fell far short of the $7.3 billion estimated to be required globally to stay on track to defeat the disease, WHO said.