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Study: Malaria Kills More People than Previously Estimated, But Amount of Deaths Decline

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Malaria is killing more people worldwide than previously thought, but the number of deaths has fallen rapidly as efforts to combat the disease have ramped up, according to new research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

1.2 million people died from malaria worldwide in 2010, which is a doubled amount compared to the most recent studies of the disease. Today, malaria is causing more fatalities worldwide than previously estimated, but thankfully, the number of deaths have dropped quickly due to raised efforts to effectively treat the disease.

Deaths from malaria have been miscounted due to assumptions that malaria primarily kills children under five years of age. IHME has reported that more than 78,000 children ages 5 to 14, and more than 445,000 people ages 15 and older died from malaria in 2010, which equates to 42 percent of all malaria deaths occurring in people five years or older.

“You learn in medical school that people exposed to malaria as children develop immunity and rarely die from malaria as adults,” said lead study author Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of IHME, in a statement. “What we have found in hospital records, death records, surveys and other sources shows that just is not the case.”

The study also revealed that the trend in malaria deaths is higher than previously thought. Since 1985, malaria deaths increased each year, and saw its highest numbers in 2004 at 1.8 million deaths globally. Since that time the number of fatalities have decreased yearly, as a 7 percent decline was noticed between the years of 2007 and 2010.

Various types of treatments for malaria are the main reasons for the decline in fatalities. Insecticide-treated bed nets and artemisinin-combination treatments have been recently used for malaria patients. In addition overall funding for malaria treatment grew from less than $0.25 billion annually in 2001 to over $2 billion in 2009, per IHME’s latest tallies.

“We have seen a huge increase in both funding and in policy attention given to malaria over the past decade, and it’s having a real impact,” explain Dr. Alan Lopez, co author of the study. “Reliably demonstrating just how big an impact is important to drive further investments in malaria control programs. This makes it even more critical for us to generate accurate estimates for all deaths, not just in young children and not just in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The study is viewable in the most recent edition of the Lancet.

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