Poorest children in world twice as likely to contract malaria

The world's poorest children are twice as likely to contract malaria as the least poor, according to a recent study, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said on Wednesday.

The study, published in the Lancet, analyzed 4,969 English-language studies from the past 30 years on the connection between the risk of malaria infection and the socioeconomic status of children aged 15 and below. Researchers from the school found the poorest children have double the chance of malaria infection than counterparts who are better off.

The study makes a case for socioeconomic development as a key to controlling and eliminating malaria. The study cited an estimate that a 0.3 gross domestic product percent growth in sub-Saharan Africa would lead to a 10 percent reduction in malaria.

"The analysis represents a comparison of the very poorest children with the least poor children within highly impoverished communities," Richard Smith, a professor in health economics at the school, said. "The difference in the odds of malaria in the poorest children are likely to have been even greater if the studies were expanded to include children from wealthier homes."

The researchers recommended that development programs be included as a component of malaria control. Improved standards of living and increased wealth from socioeconomic development could lead to the decline of malaria transmission.

"Malaria and poverty have been closely associated throughout history and it was mainly development that caused the disease to disappear from Europe and North America in previous centuries," Lucy Tusting, the lead author of the study, said. "As Africa develops, the story is likely to be similar. However it is vital to maintain high use of insecticide-treated bednets, indoor residual spraying and effective antimalarial drugs."

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2.57 billion people are at risk of malaria transmission worldwide. Approximately 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa.