Global malaria deaths twice as high as estimated, Lancet study says

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Global malaria deaths may be nearly twice as high as previously estimated, according to new findings published by British medical journal the Lancet.

The study of malaria deaths worldwide between 1980 and 2010, using new data and computer modeling, was led by Dr. Christopher Murray at the University of Washington in Seattle, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

An estimated 1.24 million people died from the mosquito-borne disease in 2010, with more than 90 percent of those deaths occurring in Africa, researchers found. This is around twice the figure of 655,000 malaria deaths estimated by World Health Organization for the same year.

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Malaria deaths rose from 995,000 in 1980 to a peak of 1.82 million in 2004, but since then have been steadily decreasing, the Lancet study said.

"There has been a rapid decrease in malaria mortality in Africa because of the scaling up of control activities supported by international donors," the study said. "Donor support, however, needs to be increased if malaria elimination and eradication and broader health and development goals are to be met."

An editorial in the Lancet described the findings as "surprising and, on the face of it, disturbing," but also noted that "interventions scaled up since 2004 have been phenomenally successful in reducing the number of malaria deaths."

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The decline in malaria deaths has been driven mainly by “accelerated decreases” in sub-Saharan Africa. 

"Much of this success can be attributed to the work of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, now celebrating its tenth anniversary," the editorial said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last week committed $750 million to the Global Fund, a donation that "has thrown the Global Fund a lifeline at a time when donor support is in desperately short supply," the Lancet editorial said.

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