Around 1.2 million people died from malaria in 2010. This is still a significant 32% decline since the peak number of recorded deaths in 2004, however, these figures are almost double those reported in the 2011 World Malaria Report (655,000 malaria deaths in 2010).
A new report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, published by the Lancet, has published these higher figures and suggests that the difference in the two estimates may be due to problems with capturing the numbers of malaria deaths in children over five and adults, which the report estimates account for 42% of malaria deaths.
“An important issue this report raises is the need to re-think how we deliver healthcare.” says Sunil Mehra, Malaria Consortium Executive Director. “We have to continue to achieve a significant reduction of populations at risk of malaria therefore control efforts have to be more universal.”
Part of the difficulty with correctly estimating the impact of malaria is the lack of statistical data for cases in children over five and adults. An accurate diagnosis is not always available at the point of service, which leads to potentially incomplete information.
"There is no accurate data in Africa," explained Dr. Karin Källander, Malaria Consortium's inSCALE project programme coordinator in an interview with Al Jazeera English. "If we look at malaria specifically, it is a disease which resembles many other diseases. So unless you have a case that's been diagnosed using proper diagnostic methods, you cannot really tell if that case was caused by malaria or not."
The report highlights, however, that despite this new data indicating malaria related deaths are almost double than previously expected, deaths from malaria are still declining rapidly.
This is attributed to the scale up of malaria control activities by organisations like Malaria Consortium and funding from the international community. Researchers say methods such as the widespread distribution and use of insecticide treated nets for prevention and Artemisinin Combination Therapy for treatment are playing a significant role in this continuing decline.
The report also makes the point that malaria has been previously under-reported as a cause of adult mortality, which means that the benefits of malaria control efforts are even higher than previously considered.
This shows just how important continued and sustained funding is in order to maintain the gains of the past few years and to continue to tackle this disease which affects whole communities.