Expert Commentary

Global malaria mortality between 1980 and 2010: A systematic analysis

2012 meta-study from the University of Washington and the University of Queensland on estimates of global malaria mortality rates over the past three decades.

The annual number of deaths from malaria worldwide has been difficult to track, and estimates have varied widely in recent decades. But the need for clarity on this global health issue remains great, and more resources are being dedicated to combating the disease. Indeed, U.S. aid devoted to malaria increased from $149 million in 2000 to $1.2 billion in 2008.

A 2012 meta-study from the University of Washington and the University of Queensland published in The Lancet, “Global Malaria Mortality Between 1980 and 2010: A Systematic Analysis,” utilized research data from 1980 to 2010 to estimate the true levels of malaria mortality and the trends over time. The researchers examined studies in a variety of databases and used statistical techniques to account for the fact that malaria deaths are not always properly classified. The study ultimately calls into question prevailing estimates published in the World Health Organization’s annual reports on malaria.

Findings of the meta-study include:

  • Global malaria deaths increased from 995,000 in 1980 to a peak of 1,817,000 in 2004, and then decreased to 1,238,000 in 2010.
  • In Africa, malaria deaths increased from 493,000 in 1980 to 1,613,000 in 2004, and then decreased by about 30% in 2010 to 1,133,000. Outside of Africa, malaria deaths have steadily decreased, from 502,000 in 1980 to 104,000 in 2010.
  • The majority (65%) of all malaria deaths occur in children under age 15. Individuals ages 15-49 years, 50-69 years, and 70 years or older accounted for 20%, 9% and 6%, respectively, of malaria deaths in 2010.
  • Overall, 433,000 more deaths occurred worldwide in individuals aged 5 years or older in 2010 than was suggested by official WHO estimates.

The authors conclude that there were “about twice as many deaths than are estimated in the World Malaria Report 2011, with substantially more malaria deaths in adults in Africa and in both adults and children outside of Africa than previously recognized. Estimates of trends over time show that malaria deaths have increased by three times through the 1980s and 1990s, with subsequent declines driven by a rapid scaling-up of control efforts with crucial support from international donors.”

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