Around 14 million more cases of malaria and 69,000 more deaths due to it were reported worldwide in 2020 than in 2019 and India was the only high-burden country to have sustained a reduction in the disease burden, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report.
It, however, stated the rate of decline of the disease in India was slower than before the pandemic with the country still sharing over 80 per cent of the malaria burden of South-East Asia.
The World Malaria Report 2021, brought out by WHO, highlighted the havoc malaria continues to wreck on the world's poorest and the most vulnerable.
It also highlighted sizable gaps in malaria funding as the demand to sustain progress increased last year to $6.8 billion with only a tiny increase in malaria funding.
In the South-East Asia region, the malaria funding per person at risk in India has been lower than the neighbouring countries, stated the report.
"An estimated 14 million more cases and 69,000 more deaths were caused by malaria during 2020 compared to 2019. India was the only high-burden country to record progress by sustaining a reduction in malaria burden between 2019 and 2020. However, the rate of decline was slower than before the pandemic," the WHO report stated.
"Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, global gains against malaria had levelled off," said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.
Alongside plateauing investments, a sharp drop in malaria testing and gaps in mosquito-control measures contributed to the thwarted progress in the high-burden countries, the World Malaria Report 2021 stated.
Of the 31 countries that had planned insecticide-treated mosquito net campaigns in 2020, only 18 completed their campaigns by the end of that year.
Ravaged by the pandemic, India only managed to fulfil 50 per cent of its planned distribution of long-lasting insecticidal nets and had also recorded a reduction in other measures like the indoor residual spraying during 2020, the report stated.
"The figures and trends are deeply concerning as the most malaria-affected countries witnessed a reversal of the gains the previous year," said Dr Kaushik Sarkar, the director of the Institute for Malaria and Climate Solutions and the director in charge, Malaria No More India.
"India, a trendsetter in the world's progress against malaria in recent years sustained the reduction of malaria cases. But the plateauing progress with the pandemic-induced disruption reflects the urgency of utilising India's robust Covid surveillance infrastructure and capacities to combat febrile illnesses like malaria," he said.
At the same time, India must focus on bridging the gap between the demand and supplies of vector control tools, Dr Sarkar said.
"With greater self-reliance and frugal innovations, it's time the country shifts gears in the fight against malaria to make the next five years the last five years of suffering from malaria," he added.
The WHO report said that despite the strong impact of the pandemic, heroic efforts by countries, partners and community health workers using innovative strategies, strong political will and mobilizing new funding were all crucial to avoiding the worst-case scenario.
Despite the challenges, countries and partners ensured that 72 per cent of life-saving insecticide-treated net distribution programmes went ahead in 2020. Over 33 million children were also reached with seasonal malaria chemoprevention, more than ever before, it said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)