2/20/2012 8:00:00 PM

Global malaria deaths greatly underestimated?

New study
New data concerning malaria mortality have been published in a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. The systematic analysis of malaria mortality in different countries between 1980 and 2010 used all existing data. The study results, published in the British Medical Journal The Lancet, show that the figure for worldwide malaria victims could be almost twice as high as previously estimated in the World Malaria Report 2011 by the WHO (nearly 1.24 million deaths in 2010 against 655 000).

The study also revealed that about a half of all malaria victims are adults and older children, while many believed that children under 5 years were the most vulnerable. “In Asia and the Americas the median proportion of deaths in those older than 15 years was 76% and 69%, respectively”, says The Lancet editorial.

Finally, the study concluded that worldwide malaria deaths had increased from 995,000 in 1980 with a peak of 1.82 million in 2004, before falling to 1.24 million in 2010.

India’s real figure for malaria deaths can be 40 times higher than official one

The Times of India reports that according to researchers of University of Washington malaria killed 46 800 Indians in 2010, while the official estimation by the National Vector-Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) stood at 1 024.

As a reaction to the study a special committee was set up by NVBDCP to measure actual malaria death burden in India. The committee chairman acknowledged in the interview to The Times of India “on an average, 40 297 Indians die of the mosquito-borne disease every year”. Nevertheless, NVBDCP officials accepted another conclusion of the independent study: about 89% of India’s malaria victims were adults.

Adjust priorities in malaria control

According to Robert Newman, Head of Global Malaria Program “the WHO appreciates all the efforts by partners and the scientific community to improve estimation methods for the global malaria burden and welcomes this study [by IHME] as well.”

The WHO stands by their previous estimates but considers that both studies “show that an unacceptably high number of people still die from malaria” and determine the same descending trends in disease due to investments in Vector control.

The Lancet's editor, Richard Horton, told the BBC he believes the disease can and is being controlled, in particular, thanks to the Global Fund. “Over the past decade, 230 million cases of malaria have been treated and the same numbers of bed nets have been distributed by the Global Fund”.

Many think that bed nets are mostly recommended to children, but The Lancet highlights that “malaria is a greater long-term threat to adult health than we have previously imagined”.