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Africans still at risk of malaria, finds study

Fifty-seven per cent of people living in Africa still face a moderate to high risk of catching malaria despite record investment in infection control, according to research published today (20 February 2014) in The Lancet.

However, statistics also show that by 2010 more than a quarter of the population living in countries in Africa where the disease is endemic faced a much lower risk of infection than they did 10 years earlier.

The findings are based on the results of the largest ever collection and analysis of data looking at the prevalence of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in 44 malaria-endemic countries and territories in Africa since 1980.

The data were collected from the results of 26,746 community surveys that involved 3.5 million people.

The researchers used the data to estimate the proportion of two- to 10-year-olds infected with the parasite in 2000 (when the Roll Back Malaria campaign was launched) and a decade on. They found that the prevalence of infection in children in 40 of the countries had gone down in the 10 years.

They also estimated that during the same period the number of people living in areas where transmission of the infection was high fell by 16 per cent but went up by 57 per cent in areas where the risk of infection was moderate to high.

But there was a 64 per cent rise in the number of people living in areas where the transmission rate was very low. The findings mean it is now a “realistic goal” that the disease can be wiped out in Cape Verde, Eritrea, South Africa and Ethiopia, the researchers said.

The study sets itself apart from other research into the incidence of malaria because researchers considered the “more robust” option of looking at the parasite prevalence rather than relying on data related to deaths or disease episodes which can be “imprecise and unreliable”, according to one of its author’s, Abdisalan Mohamed Noor, from the Kenya Medical Research Institute-Wellcome Trust Research Programme and University of Oxford.

He said looking at changes in malaria parasite infection rates should be the way forward in the future in determining the impact of malaria control strategies.

He said: “In the next decade these surveys should continue to be implemented. At the same time concerted efforts should be invested in rapidly expanding the diagnosis and reporting of clinical cases in Africa.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11134735

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