But he stressed that the situation “could have been much worse”.
The UN agency highlighted its projection at the onset of the pandemic that service disruptions could double the number of malaria deaths in 2020.
“Thanks to the hard work of public health agencies in countries affected by malaria, the worst projections of the impact of Covid have not come true,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement .
“Now we must harness that same energy and commitment to reverse the setbacks caused by the pandemic and accelerate the pace of progress against this disease. “
Since the turn of the century, the world has made steady progress against malaria, with annual cases down 27 percent by 2017 and deaths plummeting over 50 percent.
“Potential malaria crisis”
But the numbers stagnated in the years leading up to the pandemic.
And the situation has worsened in sub-Saharan Africa, where 95 percent of all malaria cases and 96 percent of all deaths occur, and where about 80 percent of all deaths are in children under five. .
The WHO report showed that 24 countries had recorded an increase in malaria deaths since 2015 – the benchmark year for the agency’s global malaria strategy.
In the 11 countries most affected by malaria in the world, cases rose from 150 million in 2015 to 163 million in 2020, while deaths rose from 39,000 to 444,600 during the same period, according to the statement. .
“I think we are on the brink of a potential malaria crisis,” Dr Pedro Alonso, head of the WHO’s global malaria program, told reporters.
Not only are we not moving closer to elimination or eradication on a global scale, he warned, “but the problem (is) is worsening in a substantial number of parts of Africa”.
But a number of countries are making progress.
Between 2000 and 2020, 23 countries managed to go three consecutive years without local transmission, and so far in 2021, China and El Salvador have been certified as malaria-free.
Another positive step is the development of the first vaccine against malaria.
Last week, the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, said it had approved nearly $ 156 million in funding to deploy the vaccines to children in sub-Saharan Africa.