Malaria is killing more Indians than estimated, says a study reported in medical journal The Lancet, which puts malarial deaths at 2.05 lakh each year — 13 times the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate of 15,000 deaths a year.
According to the study, Orissa alone accounts for 50,000 deaths, followed by Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Assam and the northeastern states. Children are the worst hit, with the mosquito-borne disease killing 80,000 of those under 15 years of age.
WHO has rubbished the estimates while the health ministry has reserved judgment.
“The Lancet study uses verbal autopsy method, suitable only for diseases with distinct symptoms. Malaria has symptoms common with many diseases and verbal autopsy may result in false-positives,” said Dr Nata Menabde, WHO representative designate to India.
Verbal autopsy involves interviewing families of people who have died about the circumstances surrounding the death.
“In a 2005 study, the same authors had warned against use of verbal autopsy for obtaining malaria death estimates, as did the registrar general of India,” Menabde added. “All we know at this point is that all fever deaths have symptoms similar to malaria. The diagnosis is unconfirmed. Whatever the cause, fevers are preventable and the government should ensure medicines reach people in time,” said Dr V.M. Katoch, secretary in the health ministry.
In the study, Toronto-based Centre for Global Health Research analysed 75,342 deaths across India between 2001 and 2003 and found malaria to be the cause in 3.6 per cent (2,681) of the cases.
“WHO’s numbers were misleadingly low as it was based on people being diagnosed and treated for malaria. Most people die undiagnosed,” said co-lead author Dr Prabhat Jha, director of CGHR.
2.05 lakh people die of malaria each year, says the study by Toronto-based Centre for Global Health Research — 13 times the WHO estimate of 15,000 deaths
WHO says verbal autopsy method of reaching such a high estimate wrong
But CGHR says WHO estimate does not take into account those who die undiagnosed