Malaria kills twice as many as previously thought


MALARIA KILLS twice as many people every year as formerly believed, taking 1.2 million lives and causing the deaths not only of babies but also of older children and adults, according to research that overturns decades of assumptions about one of the world’s most lethal diseases.

The findings from the research, published today, which has reanalysed 30 years of data on the disease using new techniques, will force a rethink of the huge global effort that has been under way to eliminate malaria. That ambition now looks highly unlikely by the UN target date of 2015.

It also raises urgent questions about the future of the troubled Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and malaria, which has provided the money for most of the tools to combat the disease in Africa, such as insecticide-impregnated bed nets and new drugs.

The fund is in financial crisis and has had to cancel its next grant-making round.

The research comes from the highly respected Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, based in Seattle, and is published in the Lancet.

Dr Christopher Murray and colleagues have systematically collected data on deaths from all over the world over a 30-year period, from 1980 to 2010, using new methodologies and inventive ways of measuring mortality in countries where deaths are not conventionally recorded. The work on malaria is part of a much bigger project which has already led to new estimates of the death rates of women in childbirth and pregnancy and from breast and cervical cancer.

Their figure of 1.2 million deaths for 2010 is nearly double the 655,000 estimated in last year’s World Malaria Report.

The good news is that they have confirmed the downward trend that the World Health Organisation’s report showed, as a result of efforts by donors, aid organisations and governments.

The bad news is that the decline comes from a much higher peak – deaths hit 1.8 million in 2004, they say. That means the interventions such as better treatment and bed nets are working, but there is much further to go.

The study demolishes conventional thinking on malaria – that almost all the deaths are in babies and small children under the age of five. The study found that 42 per cent were in older children and adults.