Saturday, February 4, 2012

Malaria may kill far more people than we think

When it comes to diseases caused by parasites, malaria is by far the most deadly. The World Health Organisation estimates that about 655.000 people died from the disease in 2010, but new models show this figure may need to be doubled. Because malaria is most common in Africa and a lot of countries there have poor healthcare and lack statistics, there is still a lot of uncertainty. However, it does highlight the need for scientific efforts in order to eradicate the disease.

In a report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation the number of deaths was put at 1,2 million, significantly higher than what the WHO reported. According to their statistics, malaria deaths in African adults are severely underreported, because doctors frequently misdiagnose them as simply having a fever. The institute also found a large increase in the number of malaria deaths among small children.

It is peculiar that different organisations calculate largely different numbers when it comes to malaria deaths. According to the people familiar with fighting malaria in African countries, there is a lot of statistical uncertainty. To get the number of deaths, surveyists investigate small areas and extrapolate the statistics. However, the models they use vary, and so do the numbers in large extent. It appears there is no method that can predict with certainty how bad the problem of malaria in Africa really is.

Whatever the exact numbers may be, it was clear that malaria still causes many deaths worldwide, and this picture did not change. We are desperately in need of new therapies to fight the deadly disease. Recently, some efforts have been made to diminish malaria. A large vaccination program has shown efficacy in decreasing deaths, while there are also new strategies being developed to eradicate the mosquito that spreads the disease.

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