Malaria remained the leading cause of disease among refugees in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Young children in sub-Saharan Africa are especially vulnerable to the mosquito-borne disease.
Malaria, usually caused by an infection transmitted by mosquito bites, was responsible for one fifth of all registered cases of illness among refugees last year, according to a health report released Thursday (July 1) by the UN refugee agency UNHCR. The figure reflects an increase of 17% on the previous year.
After malaria, upper respiratory diseases like COVID-19, the common cold and influenza were the second-most common reasons for medical treatment among refugees last year, according to the report. Among the approximately 4.7 million refugees who sought medical care in 2020, the UNHCR recorded 41,400 COVID-19 cases, with 401 people reported to have died as a result.
The UN refugee agency is responsible for trying to ensure medical assistance for 16.5 million refugees in 50 countries.
Malaria is usually transmitted through the bites of female Anopheles mosquitoes. The number of reported cases of malaria continues to rise. According to the latest World Malaria Report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 229 million reported cases of malaria in 2019.
Malaria is preventable with anti-malarial drugs and by using insecticide-treated mosquito nets and insect sprays. Drug treatments can also be used to cure the disease, although the resistance of some malaria parasites to medicines has undermined control programs.
Disease caused by malaria continues to kill hundreds of thousands of people every year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2019, the estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409,000. Six countries accounted for around half of all malaria deaths worldwide: Nigeria, DRC, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Niger.
Children under five years of age are most affected by malaria: in 2019 they accounted for 67% of all malaria deaths globally. This is partly because years of exposure to malaria can lead to partial immunity, reducing the risk of severe disease. Thus in Africa, most malaria deaths occur among young children who have not developed immunity.