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Malaria: An Ongoing Battle On A Global Scale

Eight new cases of malaria are contracted every second World Health Organisation

Eight new cases of malaria are contracted every second, according to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The latest WHO figures also suggest that some 660,000 deaths a year are attributed to malaria, while a separate study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) puts the mortality rate at almost double that number.

Despite significant funding efforts aimed at eradicating the disease, malaria remains one of the greatest threats to human life in the southern hemisphere, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. What's more, as the discrepancy between the two sets of figures cited in the above paragraph shows, we still don't know just how serious the problem is.

We can, however, make educated judgements, and the map in the above panel gives you a real-time update on the number of malaria cases and deaths, both suspected and confirmed. A global running total can be seen at the top of the map, while hovering your cursor over each individual country reveals the frequency of suspected and confirmed cases in that specific territory. The predictive figures are based on both historical and current WHO malaria data.

Why Are Figures So Unreliable?

There are many factors determining the unreliability of figures of this nature, some more obvious than others, and this has a lot to do with the fact that developing countries, where the standard of healthcare is lower, make up a significant proportion of countries effected by the disease.

However, this is not the only factor contributing to the uncertainty of the figures. According to the WHO, surveillance systems' abilities to detect cases are influenced by a number of factors: many malaria patients do not seek treatment, thus cannot be recorded or counted as a malaria case; some health facilities are not covered by a country's surveillance system and thus are completely excluded from the count; diagnosis tests are often inaccurate; and lastly, some unreliability lies in the completeness of recording and reporting of the disease. It is therefore clear to see that it is virtually impossible to obtain precise and accurate counts of the spread of the disease at any given moment.

Additionally, and somewhat more controversially, there have been suggestions that some countries inflate their records pertaining to malaria. This is done for differing reasons, but mainly financial. Affected countries are categorised by what stage they're fight against malaria has reached: pre-elimination, elimination or control. The earlier the stage, the greater the financial support for combating the disease, incentivising countries to exaggerate their figures.

malaria cases in India saw a 50% reduction within 13 years

Since there has been awareness of the disease since the 1900s, many developments have been made in order to reduce the scale of the disease (CDC, 2010). For example, India accounts for around two-thirds of the confirmed cases reported in the region of South East Asia, yet their rapid economic development has resulted in a prioritised intensive response to the poor health of the nation. The number of malaria cases in India saw a 50% reduction within 13 years, and the country committed itself to the goal that at least 80% of malaria sufferers would receive correct, affordable, and appropriate treatment within 24 hours of reporting to a health system by 2012 (DFID, 2011). This goal appears to have had some impact as India saw a decrease in Malaria cases over the past year; with 1,485 cases recorded in July 2012, and only 1,076 recorded in 2013 (The Times of India, 2013).

Regardless of the accuracy of or discrepancy between figures from the different medical studies, it's clear that there is a long way to go in the global struggle against malaria.

Dr Fox provides online prescriptions for anti-malaria tablets posted from an NHS pharmacy for international travellers.
See the NHS Fit for Travel website for more information on which malaria tablets are recommended for which country.


CDC. (2010). The History of Malaria, An Ancient Disease. Available: Last accessed 31st July 2013.

DFID. (2011). Malaria: Country Profiles. Available: Last accessed 31st July 2013

Paulson, T. (2011). Fighting Poverty on World Malaria Day. Available: Last accessed 31st July 2013.

Rogers, S. (2012). Malaria deaths country by country: how many are there?. Available: Last accessed 31/07/13.

The Times of India. (2013). Cases of malaria, swine flu down from last July. Available: July/articleshow/21500164.cms. Last accessed 31st July 2013.

World Health Organisation. (2010). World Malaria Report 2010. Available: Last accessed 31st July 2013.

World Health Organisation. (2012). World Malaria Report 2012. WHO Global Malaria Programme (7.1), 47.

World Health Organisation. (2013). Global Health Observatory (GHO) .Available: Last accessed 31st July 2013.