LAST year’s floods were a massive setback for Pakistan’s fight against malaria. It was also a warning to the world as to how climate change impacts disease response efforts. Head of the Global Fund to fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Peter Sands, has recently stated in an interview with AFP that extreme weather conditions in Pakistan have driven very sharp rises in Malaria infections and deaths- something which should raise alarm bells not only within Pakistan but also the world over, especially those who have pledged to help Pakistan come out of the situation caused by the unprecedented floods.
There is admission of the fact that Pakistan had been making steady progress against the disease before the floods. Key antimalarial activities including distributing insecticide-treated nets for vulnerable populations and increasing the availability of rapid diagnostic tests and treatment was really paying off. According to a technical officer of the WHO, if the flood had not happened, the country could have continued to bring down the malaria numbers given these important ongoing interventions. But unfortunately, the floods upended anti-malaria efforts. In fact, Pakistan saw at least a four-fold increase in the reported number of malaria cases after the floods, from 400,000 cases nationwide in 2021 to more than 1.6 million cases in 2022. Two provinces in particular – Baluchistan and Sindh – saw an exponential increase in cases in a short period of time. We really appreciate the support extended by the WHO and the Global Fund to tackle the malaria outbreak but we believe much more needs to be done to bring down the malaria cases. Malaria cases usually decline in winter and the disease could return with a vengeance in the monsoon season to come. The situation is still precarious. It is really important that the federal and provincial governments as well as donors stay vigilant and make the necessary interventions in a timely and effective manner. If left unchecked, the potential surge could become a regional crisis. An awareness campaign on a mass scale is also needed to involve and engage all members of the society to make the fight against this disease successful.