The World Malaria Report 2016 also discovers that Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest burdens of malaria cases, but has experienced vast progress in reducing malaria deaths and transmission.
The country is one of just seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa where more than a quarter of the population is infected with malaria, the report shows, with nearly three in ten Sierra Leoneans having the disease.
However the report reveals significant progress in malaria control, with the country achieving more than 86 percent decline in malaria deaths between 2010 and 2015, the highest reduction in West Africa, and there has been almost 30 percent reduction in new cases.
“Sierra Leone has experienced substantive progress in reducing the burden and impact of malaria but there remains much more to be done to prevent new cases and save lives,” said Anders Nordström, WHO Country Representative for Sierra Leone.
“From government to communities and partners, everyone has a role to play in reducing risks of transmission and securing timely, life-saving treatment for all.”
Over the last five years, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, together with partners, has supported a range of interventions to reduce the toll of malaria including: mass distribution of insecticide treated nets, which are among the most effective and proven means of preventing malaria; targeted nationwide anti-malaria campaigns, and increased availability of free diagnostic tests and treatments at health centers.
“We must all act now to ‘tap’ malaria, which is one of the biggest killers in Sierra Leone,” Nordström added. “This means making sure people use treated nets every night; keep their environment clean from mosquitos, and seek early treatment and care as soon as they have any symptoms of the disease, which include fever, headache, chills and loss of appetite.”
Malaria is an acute disease caused by protozoa of the genus Plasmodium, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected female anopheline mosquito. Plasmodium falciparum is the predominant cause of severe malaria in Sierra Leone, accounting for more than 90 percent of all malaria infections. Without prompt treatment, Plasmodium falciparum malaria can progress to severe illness and death.
An unfinished agenda
Malaria remains an acute public health problem, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the report, there were 212 million new cases of malaria and 429 000 deaths worldwide in 2015.
There are still substantial gaps in the coverage of core malaria control tools. In 2015, an estimated 43% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa was not protected by treated nets or indoor spraying with insecticides, the primary methods of malaria vector control.
In many countries, health systems are under-resourced and poorly accessible to those most at risk of malaria. In 2015, a large proportion (36%) of children with a fever were not taken to a health facility for care in 23 African countries.
“We are definitely seeing progress,” notes Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme.
“But the world is still struggling to achieve the high levels of programme coverage that are needed to beat this disease.”
An urgent need for more funding
Sustained and sufficient funding for malaria control is a serious challenge. Despite a steep increase in global investment for malaria between 2000 and 2010, funding has since flat-lined. In 2015, malaria funding totalled US$ 2.9 billion, representing only 45% of the funding milestone for 2020 (US$6.4 billion).
Governments of malaria-endemic countries provided about 31% of total malaria funding in 2015. The United States of America is the largest international malaria funder, accounting for about 35% of total funding in 2015, followed by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (16%).