Malaria News: WHO criticizes new report that doubles malaria death estimate

The World Health Organization has criticized a new study which stated that twice as many people die per year as previously estimated.

The new study published in The Lancet says previous studies have widely overlooked adult deaths from malaria, mistakenly overestimating the percent of victims that are under 5 years old.

Malaria, a preventable and treatable disease, is transmitted by mosquitoes and most prevalent in Africa. New statistics could impact billions of dollars in aid donations, according to the Washington Post.

According to the Lancet report, 1.24 million people died from malaria in 2010, with 42 percent being over 5 years old. The same year, the World Health Organization estimated 655,000 malaria deaths, with only 14 percent being over 5 years old.

And while the WHO stands by its estimate, both research teams agree that the numbers represent a significant decrease in malaria deaths over the past six years.

“Our findings show that the malaria mortality burden is larger than previously estimated, especially in adults,” reads the new study. “There has been a rapid decrease in malaria mortality in Africa because of the scaling up of control activities supported by international donors.”

WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl criticized the report, saying the data was based on interviews, not diagnoses. He told Voice of America, the disease is still primarily afflicting small children in Africa.

“The data on which The Lancet estimates causes that data to be much less sure than what we would believe the data should be,” he said. “So we would say again that the majority and the great majority of deaths would be in children under five and we stand by our estimates.”

Researchers involved in the report, however, say the new data indicates mistakes in current approaches to the disease.

"You learn in medical school that people exposed to malaria as children develop immunity and rarely die from malaria as adults," Dr. Christopher Murray of the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study, told the BBC. "What we have found in hospital records, death records, surveys and other sources shows that just is not the case."

Both The Lancet report and the WHO say increased spending is crucial to continue the decline of malaria deaths. Last summer, the United Nations called for the near eradication of malaria by 2015.

“To reach our goal of near zero deaths from malaria by 2015, we need an extraordinary intensification of our actions,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement.

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