Study shows malaria deaths may be twice as high as thought

According to a new report published in the journal Lancet, the number of people dying annually from malaria is approximately double the current estimate because of a major overlooked death toll in adults.

If the new study is widely accepted, the new estimate could lead to increased competition for global health spending, which has become stagnant during the economic downturn. The study describes malaria as a problem much worse than expected, though its one that is rapidly benefiting from better treatment and prevention, the Washington Post reports.

According to the study, global malaria deaths peaked at 1.81 million in 2004 but decreased to 1.24 million by 2010. The study estimates that 524,000 people aged five or older died of malaria, representing approximately 42 percent of the global toll. The World Health Organization estimated that 655,000 people died of the disease in 2010, with 91,000 - 14 percent - aged five and older.

"In the global health landscape, being twice as big as people thought is pretty important," Christopher J. L. Murray, the head of the team that prepared the estimate, said, according to the Washington Post.

The study also found that malaria accounts for 24 percent of African children's deaths, which is higher than previously thought.

Financial assistance to low-income countries with malaria rose from $150 million in 2000 to $2 billion in 2011, with much of the money coming from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The largest donor country is the United States, which spent $500 million in 2010 on malaria control.

Richard Cibulskis, the coordinator of strategy for the WHO's global malaria program, played down the difference between the new study and the WHO's estimates, saying that there is a large margin of error in the estimates. An area in which the two estimates are completely incompatible is the death in Africans above the age of five, in which Murray's estimate is eight times higher, according to the Washington Post.

The new study has made some skeptical, such as Kevin Marsh, a physician with the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust research program who has spent 22 years in Africa. He said that severe illness in adults is typically attributed incorrectly to malaria because practitioners are familiar with it and know how to treat the disease.

"I'm not saying it's impossible, but with all we know, it's highly unlikely," Marsh said, according to the Washington Post.