Malaria Statistics

The new WHO report on malaria estimates raises about as many questions as answers. While the report revises estimates of malaria cases downward in Asia, it also raises questions about the accuracy of the collection of the data.

This is not a new discussion and the most recent report won’t change the minds of anyone. Given the haphazard state of many national health systems in Africa and parts of Asia–too few doctors, nurses and trained technicians, obsolete equipment and inadequate reporting and monitoring–data collection in many parts of the world is based on estimation not accurate record-keeping.

And some health care workers I’ve talked with go further. They tell me diagnosis is also a problem due to lack of testing capabilities and reliance upon labs that lack necessary equipment.

Dr. Bob Snow, an epidemiologist in Kenya cited in the NY Times, says malaria cases may be much higher than reported. He notes that many cases in rural areas go unreported. Others claim many people with fevers  who are assumed to have malaria don’t have the disease.

This doesn’t mean the threat posed by malaria isn’t real. It highlights a deeper problem. Health care systems in resource-deprived regions of the world need significant improvement. If they can’t accurately diagnose, they certainly can’t treat effectively, and data collection in such circumstances becomes meaningless.

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