Worldwide malaria deaths may be double previous estimates, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington in the US.
The scientists, led by Dr Christopher Murray from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, analysed all available data on malaria mortality from 1980 to 2010. Their findings, which are published in the medical journal The Lancet, showed much higher death rates than those estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
According to the study, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there were 1.24 million deaths from the mosquito-borne disease in 2010 – almost twice the figure of 655,000 estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its 2011 World Malaria Report.
The new research 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 largest number of malaria deaths occurred in Africa. Here 493,000 died from the disease in 1980, rising to 1.6 million in 2004, before falling by about a third to 1.1 million in 2010.
Outside Africa, malaria deaths have been on a steady decline for 30 years, falling from 502,000 in 1980 to 104,000 in 2010.
While most deaths were among young children, the report noted a higher proportion of deaths among children over five and adults than previously estimated by the WHO. There were 435,000 deaths among this age group in Africa and 89,000 deaths outside that continent in 2010.
‘You learn in medical school that people exposed to malaria as children develop immunity and rarely die from malaria as adults,’ said Dr Murray.
‘What we have found in hospital records, death records, surveys and other sources shows that just is not the case,’ he explained.
The researchers also concluded that malaria eradication was not a possibility in the short-term.
‘We estimated that if decreases from the peak year of 2004 continue, malaria mortality will decrease to less than 100,000 deaths only after 2020,’ they said.