New study reveals malaria death rate in sub-Saharan Africa has dropped by 57% in the last 15 years

Citing research published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, Bill Gates called attention to extraordinary progress in the fight against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. By combining geospatial modeling from the Malaria Atlas Project and data from the Global Burden of Disease study, researchers estimated that there has been an overall decrease of 57% in the rate of malaria deaths across sub-Saharan Africa in the last 15 years—from 12.5 per 10,000 population in 2000 to 5.4 in 2015. This led to an overall decrease of 37% in the number of malaria deaths annually. This research has produced the strongest evidence yet of the steep decline in malaria deaths in Africa and identifies high-risk areas that have low coverage of both malaria prevention and treatment interventions.

The IHME-produced study highlights the power of high-resolution maps to not only improve understanding of malaria epidemiology, but also measure the effects of interventions that combat malaria. Coined by Gates as “precision malaria maps,” these maps have the potential to guide more efficient and effective malaria control and elimination strategies by using the spatial distribution of malaria burden.

The research identified several countries where high rates of death were associated with low coverage of antimalarial treatment and prevention interventions. For example, for drug treatment, areas with the highest estimated mortality (>20 malaria deaths per 100,000) and low antimalarial drug coverage (<30%) are concentrated in the southern half of Mali; the border areas between Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, and Nigeria; west Guinea; southeast Democratic Republic of Congo; and various hotspots in Niger, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Angola, and Ivory Coast. All of these countries have endorsed a new roadmap to eliminate malaria by 2030.

In his blog post, Gates also described the mobilization of financial resources in the last 15 years, noting that African countries are now mobilizing more of their own resources for malaria than they are receiving from donors.