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Friday 28th October 2016

Malaria deaths 'underestimated'

6th February 2012

A study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has found that the number of people dying of malaria around the world may be nearly twice as high as current figures estimate.


The study suggests that as many as 1.24 million people could have died from the disease in 2010, compared with a World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate of 655,000.

Writing in the medical journal The Lancet, a research team led by Christopher Murray of the University of Washington in Seattle, concluded that worldwide deaths had risen from 995,000 in 1980 to a peak of 1.82 million in 2004, before falling to 1.24 million in 2010.

The team used computer modelling and new information to build a database of malaria deaths between 1980 and 2010.

The new estimates factored in transmission rates, healthcare access, drug resistance and the deployment of mosquito nets.

They also included a readjustment to allow for the impact of wrongly reported deaths, which generated a 21% rise in the number of malaria deaths.

The peak in malaria deaths in 2004 was in line with population growth in at-risk population, while the fall in deaths since then was attributed to increased international efforts to control the disease in African countries.

The study also found that while the highest mortality rates were found among children in Africa, there were more older children and adults dying from the mosquito-borne disease than previously suspected.

The study estimated that 433,000 more deaths occurred among children over five and adults in 2010 than in the WHO estimate.

Traditional clinical wisdom teaches that people who are exposed to malaria as children rarely die from the disease as adults, because of the immunity they have acquired.

But Murray and his team said that evidence they garnered from hospital records, death records, surveys and other sources showed this belief to be inaccurate.

If the decreases in malaria mortality continue from their peak in 2004, it will take until 2020 for mortality to reach less than 100,000 deaths annually.

Hence, they concluded that malaria is unlikely to be eradicated in the short-term.

According to The Lancet, there are no reliable numbers for malaria deaths in the worst-hit regions, so any figures come from estimates.

Instead, this latest study offers a new way of producing such estimates, based on extra data and improved mathematical models.

However, experts said that the underlying message of the study is still that the disease is being controlled, albeit gradually.

Using the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, more than 230 million cases of malaria have been treated and the same number of bed nets have been distributed to people at risk of malaria.

Rapid and affordable diagnostic tests have taken the guesswork out of diagnosis and made overall information about malaria more reliable.

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