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24.03.2009 Press Release

A NEW WORLD MAP ON THE MOST DEADLY FORM OF MALARIA

By Juliette Mutheu
A NEW WORLD MAP ON THE MOST DEADLY FORM OF MALARIA

A new global map of malaria has been released by the Malaria Atlas Project (MAP; http://www.map.ox.ac.uk), a multinational team of researchers funded by the Wellcome Trust. In a study published today in PLoS Medicine, the researchers show how severe the risks of contracting malaria are worldwide.

The research was led by Dr Simon Hay, who manages the project from the Department of Zoology, at the University of Oxford. He says. “These maps represent the culmination of two years' work by the Malaria Atlas Project team with contributions made from over 200 scientists and malaria control groups across the world, analysed with state of the art mathematical modelling and spatial computing skills. Never before has this been attempted using empirical data at this scale and the product represents an important bench-mark of malaria endemicity in 2007”.

This work shows that over 70% of the 2.4 billion people at some risk of infection with Plasmodium falciparum live in areas of unstable or low endemic risk, where the technical obstacles to malaria control are relatively small. The maps also show that almost all populations at medium and high levels of risk live in sub-Saharan Africa where the disease, death and disability burdens from P. falciparum malaria remain high.

Malaria is the ninth most significant cause of death and disability globally. In the 2008 Global Malaria Action Plan, the Roll Back Malaria partnership (RBM), set ambitious targets for increases in intervention coverage and the impacts that these should have on the global toll of malaria cases and deaths. The RBM partnership also committed to elimination of the disease in countries where this was feasible and re-tabled the long term goal of malaria eradication. According to Hay, it is clear that “Mapping malaria has never been more important. The map published today is the first in an annual series, which will help monitor and evaluate progress towards international targets for control and elimination”. This map and regional and national cut-outs of it are freely available at http://www.map.ox.ac.uk/map_download.html.

Professor Bob Snow from the University of Oxford and the Kenyan Medical Research Institute, who heads the MAP group in Kenya, explains that “Charting the future success of the international effort to control and eliminate malaria requires a map of the present-day situation which, when systematically updated, will indicate the progress achieved in ten, twenty and thirty years' time. Rather than guessing what's happened, the MAP's intention has been to record, model and map developments, giving donors and national governments an evidencebased perspective on what their investments have achieved”.

The head of the Division of Malaria Control, Kenya, Dr Elizabeth Juma concurs by stating that “the maps are valuable resources that can be used to assist the program in targeting interventions to specific areas of need.”

Most of the international support for malaria endemic countries is coordinated and dispersed by the Global Fund for AIDs, TB and Malaria. The new map has been welcomed by its Executive Director, Professor Michel Kazatchkine: “We need to increase the information available to us and to our donors to demonstrate that investing in malaria control does indeed reduce the numbers of people at risk worldwide. With this kind of information, we can reassure donors by graphically showing progress and highlight where further investments are most needed”.

"The Malaria Atlas Project will offer a valuable resource to all those involved in malaria control," says Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. "By making its data freely available, we can maximise its usage and impact, and help curb this devastating disease." One of the first uses for this new global map will be to re-evaluate the estimates of the global incidence of clinical P. falciparum malaria made by the research group in 2005. Also high on their list of priorities is a similar mapping exercise for the distribution and intensity of infection by another malaria parasite, P. vivax, a species causing chronic illness in millions of people outside of Africa that has been largely neglected by the research community.

Press Office Contacts
Juliette Mutheu Public Relations Officer, Malaria Atlas Project, KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Programme, Nairobi T: +254 (0)20 2720163; 2715160 E-mail: [email protected]

Craig Brierley Media Officer, The Wellcome Trust, 215 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE, U.K. T: +44 (0)20 7611 7329 E-mail: [email protected]

Pete Wilton Press Officer, Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences and Spin-outs, University of Oxford T: +44 (0)1865 283877 E-mail: [email protected]

Visit the Oxford Science Blog at www.ox.ac.uk/scienceblog Oxford University news at: www.ox.ac.uk/media

Author contacts for commentary
Dr Simon Hay: [email protected] (Tel: +44 1865 271243) Prof Bob Snow: [email protected] (Tel: +254 20 2715160 or 2720163)

Impartial contacts for commentary
Division of Malaria Control, Kenya: Dr. Elizabeth Juma: [email protected] (Tel: +254 20 2716935

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr Laurence Slutsker: [email protected] (Tel: +1 800 232 4636)

The Global Health Group: Sir Richard Feachem: [email protected] (Tel: +1 415 5974660)

World Health Organization: Dr Richard Cibulskis: [email protected] (Tel: +41 22 791 2667)

Images and maps available for reproduction from Will Temperley: [email protected] or visit http://www.map.ox.ac.uk

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