Report: Preventing malaria in travelers to West Africa lowers health costs

U.S. travelers to West Africa consulting health providers before they leave reduces costs to both health insurance providers and themselves, according to a report recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the costs related to contracting malaria outweigh the costs of preventive care. Even though the CDC recommends that all international travelers consult with a health provider prior to departure, most do not for reasons that can include concern about health risks, lack of awareness or a lack of coverage by health insurance providers.

"This analysis confirmed that pre-travel health consultations for travelers going to areas where the risk of malaria is equivalent to that of West Africa result in cost-savings," Edward Ryan, a co-author of the report, said. "We know from other studies that preventive measures reduce the risk of contracting malaria, so the question we were looking at was whether preventive care for travelers saves money. The answer to the question is a resounding yes for health care insurers and carriers and, in many cases, for travelers themselves."

The study found that the costs to payers for preventive services ranged from $161 to $207, while the average costs to treat a case of malaria would be more than $25,000. The analysis found that covering preventive services could save payers between $14 and $371 per patient, with greater savings associated with longer visits to malaria-prone areas.

Prevention costs for individual travelers averaged around $45, while contracting malaria cost an average of close to $3,400.

"We focused this analysis on one illness, malaria, but pre-travel medical care also involves trying to prevent many other illnesses associated with travel," Ryan said. "Our analysis suggests that, not only does it make good medical sense for travelers to check in with their health care provider before traveling, it also makes solid economic sense. In this era of trying to maximize the utility of every health-care dollar, studies such as this will play a critical role."