A recent study published by the Lancet Medical Journal is exposing some interesting finds regarding malaria prevalence in Africa. The study, aimed at examining the impact of control initiatives on vulnerable populations, is a collaboration between researchers from Oxford University, the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The researchers analyzed data from 26,746 community-based surveys of parasite prevalence since 1980. The data gathered came from 44 African countries where the disease remains endemic.

The study has yielded a mixed bag of results. On a positive note, 40 countries have seen reduction in malaria prevalence among children between 2000 and 2010; the number of people living in high transmission areas has dropped by 16%. A number of countries, including Cape Verde, Eritrea, South Africa and Ethiopia, have experienced transmission rates low enough to indicate possible elimination of the disease.

However, despite this positive feedback, researchers say that there is cause for concern.

The study also indicated that the number of people living in areas of moderate to high-risk of infection has increased by 57%, from 178.6 million to 280.1 million. Researchers have attributed part of this increase to rapid population growth, which could be dampening malaria control efforts. Included among the countries with the highest malaria prevalence figures are Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Out of those living in areas of moderate to high-risk of infection, 87.1% live in just 10 countries. Unfortunately, three of these countries are not included in the WHO Malaria Situation Room, an initiative that provides support to the ten African countries with the highest malaria burden.

These statistics prove that despite some success, more can be done.

In recent years, international aid organizations have ramped up efforts to control malaria. For instance, in 2000, investment in worldwide malaria control stood just short of $100 million. In 2013, this investment had almost reached the $3 billion mark. With this amount of money, the world should be seeing nothing short of progress.

Commenting on the study, Dr. Abdisalan Mohamed Noor of the Kenya Medical Research Institute-Welcome Trust Research Program notes, “In a period of global economic recession, these results emphasize the need for continued support for malaria control, not only to sustain the gains that have been made, but also to accelerate the reduction in transmission intensity where it still remains high.” Professor Brian Greenwood of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine agrees, noting that the reductions in malaria transmission “have only been modest.”

Impeding progress in malaria control efforts include the growing resistance to pesticides among mosquitoes, as well as the drug resistance occurring among the population.

Future efforts need to focus on supporting the development of new methods of control, as well as expanding access to drugs, insecticides and vaccines.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: Medical News Today, BBC, The Verge
Photo: NPR