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Malaria Deaths Falling Slowly, WHO Report Says

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Anopheles mosquito; courtesy of iStockphoto/abadonian

In the long fight against malaria, progress finally seems to be coming, if incrementally. The number of people who died from malaria in 2010 fell 5 percent from the previous year and has dropped 26 percent from 2000 levels, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report.

The decline might seem modest given the $2 billion that has been given to fight the disease in the past year. But even this small most recent dip suggests that “investment in malaria control brings results,” Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said in a statement.

The parasitic disease killed approximately 655,000 people in 2010, most of whom were children under the age of 5. The preponderance of malaria cases is still in Africa, where people are also more likely to succumb to the disease.

Although treatment via artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) has greatly helped to bring the number of deaths down worldwide, Chen and others are worried by cases of artemisinin resistance reported in the past few years. With quick and cheap diagnostic tests now more widespread, the WHO recommends that no one receive malaria drugs without a test. And because the parasite can quickly develop resistance to a single drug, Chan says all monotherapies should be taken off the market.

“The estimated yearly number of malaria cases, though declining, is still 223 million,” she said. “That would be a huge and totally unacceptable number of people to be left with no effective treatment.”

Even with effective available therapies, the WHO failed to meet the goal of 50 percent decline in deaths between 2000 and 2010. And it seems to have a battle ahead if it hopes to meet the target of ending all deaths from malaria by 2015.

Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Sean McCann 12:30 pm 12/16/2011

    Nice pic, but it is not Anopheles.

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  2. 2. ASHIK 12:52 pm 12/16/2011

    With modern day technology in treatment and patient detected with malaria quickly ,number of deaths can be still reduced to lower count.I had malaria once in my life.Nothing happened to me.

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  3. 3. pwapwap 4:50 pm 12/16/2011

    The problem with field tests is that they can be wrong. My father is a Hematologist working in Myanmar/Thailand, and in his experience they are wrong 25% of the time (both false positive and negatives). He has been getting great results from training locals in staining and reading slides. It is more expensive up front paying for a microscope, but much cheaper and more accurate longer term.

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  4. 4. scientific earthling 6:59 pm 12/16/2011

    This is sad. In an extremely overpopulated and uneducated world, more of the illiterate rapid breeding populations needs to die in infancy. In nations with high fertility rates infant death maintains a balance. Egypt maintained a stable population of 10 million since the time of the Pharaohs, not any more. In the 18th century 95% of all poor children in Europe died before age 6. We need to return to these ratios where birth-rates exceed 2.

    Nothing will be done. Charities are big business and entrench poverty. It keeps a lot of very rich people in comfortable jobs. Charity by financial donation, is the most evil act any human can indulge in. Extinction beckons.

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  5. 5. timbo555 7:27 pm 12/16/2011

    I’m growing to love you, unscientific earthling. Now go die while you’re still in your infancy…..

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  6. 6. timbo555 7:32 pm 12/16/2011

    But wait!
    Global/Climate/warming/change/cooling scientific guess
    # 12,947 states categorically that almost everybody will be dead from malaria in just a few short years! (You should appreciate that, earthling!) What gives?

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  7. 7. N agnostic 5:31 pm 12/18/2011

    DDT was doing just fine in wiping malaria from the face of the Earth until Rachel Carson came along. Thank you Rachel, for keeping down the numbers of poor savages, and for staving off Global Warming™ a little bit.

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