Reuters NewMedia - February 3, 2012
LONDON (Reuters) - Malaria kills more than 1.2 million people
worldwide a year, nearly twice as many as previously thought,
according to new research published on Friday that questions
years of assumptions about the mosquito-borne disease.
Past studies had overlooked hundreds of thousands of deaths
because they had wrongly assumed malaria overwhelmingly killed
babies and focused their findings on under-fives, said the study
by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in the
The new study, published in The Lancet medical journal, found 42
percent of deaths were actually among older children and adults.
The higher number of victims showed the need to increase funding
to fight malaria, even as governments came under pressure to cut
their aid budgets amid the global economic crisis, said the
"You learn in medical school that people exposed to malaria as
children develop immunity and rarely die from malaria as adults,"
said Christopher Murray, who led the study as IHME Director.
"What we've found in hospital records, death records, surveys and
other sources shows that just is not the case."
In their work, which used new data and computer modeling to build
a historical database for malaria between 1980 and 2010, they
found that more than 78,000 children aged five to 14, and more
than 445,000 people aged 15 and older died from malaria in 2010.
This means more than four in 10 of all malaria deaths were in
people aged fives years and older.
Overall, malaria deaths worldwide rose from 995,000 in 1980 to a
peak of 1.8 million in 2004, before falling again to 1.2 million
in 2010, the study found.
The World Health Organization's (WHO) latest global report said
the estimated number of malaria deaths fell to 655,000 in 2010,
almost half the number in the IHME study.
The WHO, a United Nations agency, said on Friday it stood by its
figures and said that much of the data used in the Lancet study
had been based on verbal testimony by relatives of how people had
died, not on laboratory diagnosis of samples.
"So we would say that again the great majority of deaths would be
in children under five and we stand by our estimates," WHO
spokesman Gregory Hartl told a news briefing in Geneva.
Both studies showed a downward trend in deaths in recent years,
thanks largely to the use of anti-malaria drugs and
insecticide-treated bed nets.
The new findings are part of an ongoing series generated by the
Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors 2010 Study.
Global trends in child deaths, maternal deaths, breast cancer,
and cervical cancer were released last year [ID:nL5E7KF0NP] and
more will be released in coming months.
Malaria is endemic in more than 100 countries worldwide but can
be prevented by the use of bed nets and indoor spraying to keep
the mosquitoes that carry the disease at bay.
Effective malaria drugs known as artemisinin-based combination
therapies, or ACTs, can cure the infection but access to these
medicines is often hampered in poor countries, where funding is
limited and health services are patchy.
The IHME researchers said much of the decline in deaths was down
to efforts by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and
Tuberculosis, which was launched in 2001, and other anti-malaria
organizations such as the WHO's Roll Back Malaria campaign.
"We have seen a huge increase in both funding and in policy
attention given to malaria over the past decade, and it's having
a real impact," said Alan Lopez of the University of Queensland
and one of the study's co-authors.
"Reliably demonstrating just how big an impact is important to
drive further investments... This makes it even more critical for
us to generate accurate estimates for all deaths."
Commenting on the findings, Sunil Mehra, executive director of
the Malaria Consortium advocacy group, said they raised "the need
to re-think how we deliver healthcare."
"We have to continue to achieve a significant reduction of
populations at risk of malaria, therefore control efforts have to
be more universal," he said in a statement.
The IHME researchers also warned, as the WHO did in its December
2010 malaria report, that recent gains in the fight against the
disease malaria could be reversed if global economic troubles
stifle funding efforts.
It said an announcement by the Global Fund in November that it
would cancel its next round of funding "casts a cloud over the
future of malaria programs.
"If the Global Fund is weakened, the world could lose 40 percent
of all the funding dedicated to fighting malaria," said Stephen
Lim, also at IHME and a co-author on the study.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by