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Malaria deaths 'twice as high' as WHO estimates

The global malaria death toll could be twice the figure previously estimated, a study claims.

Research published in The Lancet shows malaria deaths increased from 995,000 in 1980 to hit a peak of 1,817,000 in 2004.

This figure has since fallen by 32% to hit 1,238,000 in 2010 - almost twice the number (655,000) estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the same year.

The study, led by Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) unit at the University of Washington, attributes the decline in malaria deaths to the “scaling up control activities supported by international donors”.

Murray warns the level of donor support needs to be increased if malaria elimination and eradication goals are to be met.

Researchers also found malaria deaths in children under five years old were underestimated by up to 433,000 by the WHO in 2010.

And despite traditional public health teaching arguing adults with clinical malaria are unlikely to die from the disease, the study found an average of 76% and 69% of malaria deaths occurred in people older than 15 from Asia and the Americas respectively.

“That malaria is a previously unrecognised driver of adult mortality also means that the benefits and cost-effectiveness of malaria control, elimination, and eradication are likely to have been underestimated,” says the researchers.

The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We must conclude from this study that malaria must be a far more important cause of childhood mortality than previously thought,” says Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet.

“We believe urgent technical and policy analyses must be initiated by the WHO to review this new data and their implications for malaria control programmes.

“This opportunity needs to be grasped with urgency and optimism.”

Question: What do you think are the biggest implications of this study?