Malaria map shows where to target the disease

Mon Mar 23, 2009 10:49pm EDT
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By Michael Kahn

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Eliminating malaria in many parts of the world where risk of the disease is high may be less difficult than previously thought, international researchers said on Tuesday.

Using data collected from nearly 8,000 local surveys of infection rates, the team built a global map pinpointing areas where malaria remains the biggest threat.

They found that in many areas transmission rates are below the level at which controlling the disease with things such as bed nets is a real possibility, Simon Hay of Oxford University in Britain, who led the study, said.

"In Africa, surprisingly, we found that about half the 660 million people at risk live in areas where technically you should be able to have a very substantial impact and could bring transmission down to near zero," Hay said in a telephone interview.

"The map is a resource you need to prepare proper antimalarial control and elimination."

Malaria is one of the deadliest diseases worldwide, killing 880,000 people each year, mostly children under age five in sub-Saharan Africa.

A parasite transmitted by mosquitoes causes the disease, which has become resistant to some drugs. At the same time work on a vaccine has been slow.

But the findings published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine suggest that control efforts such as bed nets could cut transmission rates to near zero for many people in high-risk areas around the world, especially Africa.   Continued...

<p>A refugee woman from Darfur waits for treatment for malaria at the International Medical Corps' health centre hospital at Mile refugee camp, west of Guereda in eastern Chad January 27, 2009. REUTERS/Margaret Aguirre/International Medical Corps/Handout</p>