/ 5 December 2006

Malaria map aims to tackle killer disease

Researchers are creating a global malaria map to tackle the killer disease by pinpointing the areas where it strikes most often.

The map, the first in 40 years, is designed to spot mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite and determine where they are likely to infect people so the best control and treatment strategies can be implemented.

So far scientists from Britain and Kenya who are working on the Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) have gathered information on 3 126 communities in 79 out of the 107 countries where malaria is endemic.

”The updated map will enable us to audit on global, national and regional levels commodity needs by country,” said Dr Simon Hay, of the University of Oxford and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) in Nairobi.

With the information, researchers in the individual countries will be able to work out how many people on average will get the disease each year, what drugs will be needed and the amount of bed nets necessary to prevent infections.

”If you build that up to a global scale you can more intelligently define your needs,” Hay told Reuters.

The map is based on malaria data from surveys that have been done, population censuses and satellite information. The first version, which will be freely accessible on the internet, should be available in 12-18 months.

Forty percent of world at risk

At the moment, information on malaria infections is based on best guesses from national reporting systems and historical data, according to Hay.

”Resources for tackling malaria are driven by a mixture of perception and politics rather than an objective assessment of need. Clearly, this situation is untenable,” Hay added.

Malaria is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. The World Health Organisation estimates the global incidence of the disease is about 300-million cases annually. About 90% of infections are in Africa and most deaths occur in children under five.

About 40% of the world’s population, mostly people living in poor countries, are at risk of malaria.

Details about the global map are published in the open access journal PLoS Medicine.

Professor Bob Snow, of the University of Oxford and a manager of the project, believes it could have a huge impact on malaria control and could potentially constrain the limits of transmission in some areas.

”Once these data become available and the early models are generated it will become increasing obvious to people that we can eliminate malaria from some parts of the world and we can begin to tailor what resources we have more efficiently,” he said. – Reuters