Fighting Malaria in a Changing Climate

By Tedi Rabold

Malaria remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases, threatening nearly half of the global population today. In 2019, the World Health Organization estimated there were around 229 million malaria cases and 409,000 malaria deaths worldwide. Pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable, with the disease killing more than 270,000 children under the age of five each year.

Malaria spreads by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, which thrive in warmer temperatures. With modern interventions, it is now largely a preventable and treatable disease. USAID, through the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, is leading prevention efforts by expanding global access to health services, distributing antimalarial medications, and improving the management of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. These efforts are even more crucial now as climate change adds to the challenge of thwarting and ultimately eradicating malaria.

U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative

Now celebrating 15 years of operation, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) is a multi-agency initiative led by USAID and co-implemented with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). PMI supports 24 partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa and three programs in Southeast Asia to control and eliminate malaria. PMI’s innovative and targeted interventions include: insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies, and intermittent preventive treatment of pregnant women. Using these interventions, partner countries have seen a 29 percent decline in malaria case rates and a 60 percent decline in malaria death rates, including a 44 percent decrease on average in child death rates.

Learn more about USAID and PMI’s achievements against malaria here:

Shifting Burdens – Climate Change and Malaria

The USAID Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) activity, which develops evidenced-based climate adaptation assessments, found that increasing temperatures and extreme weather events from climate change alters the nature of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, placing more people at risk of exposure. Specifically, ATLAS found that a hotter climate expands the range of suitable habitat for malaria-spreading Anopheles mosquitoes, causing outbreaks in areas that were previously too cold and potentially affecting millions of people unprepared to deal with the disease. These temperature shifts also extend the seasonal suitability for the mosquitoes, prolonging the malaria season. More frequent and intense storms and floods magnify the threat even further by creating more mosquito breeding grounds.

Given the interconnected nature of these threats, PMI is taking steps, based on ATLAS methodology, to consider future climate risks and integrate climate adaptation decision-making into its program. In several studies, ATLAS explored adaptation response options to climate-related health impacts, such as malaria, and developed context-specific recommendations for policy reform including:

  • health sector regulatory strengthening and risk management;
  • capacity building of health sector technical staff;
  • research priorities to plug knowledge gaps;
  • on-the-ground measures to improve health sector physical infrastructure; and
  • adaptation communications to raise public awareness.

“Simply put: more climate crises will mean more malaria in affected areas…It is important to prepare for, mitigate, and adapt to climate change impacts to maximize the effectiveness of malaria programs,” said Dr. Raj Panjabi, the current U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator, at the recent World Malaria Day 2021 event.

    Other USAID Global Health Initiatives

    USAID also supports regional efforts to prevent and control malaria in Latin America and the Caribbean through the Amazon Malaria Initiative, a collaboration of participating countries that also monitors the efficacy of antimalarial drugs.

    Finally, much of the United States’ efforts for reducing the spread and impacts of malaria and other infectious diseases worldwide are provided through USAID’s Global Health Programs. Learn more about USAID’s Global Health efforts and the U.S. Government’s Commitment to Global Health Security.

    Read more about the ATLAS activity’s findings here:

    Adaptation, Health
    Strategic Objective
    Climate Change Integration, Climate Risk Management, Health, Resilience
    Africa, Asia

    Tedi Rabold

    Tedi S. Rabold is a science journalist specializing in writing and documentary video production about environmental conservation and public health. She currently provides communications support for various USAID environmental projects. She also works as a paralegal and is currently preparing to sit for the U.S. Patent Office Bar Exam. Tedi holds a Master of Science in Science Journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from The George Washington University, with specialized studies in marine biology at James Cook University in Australia.

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