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Visualizing malaria – as more than just a killer

A child in Gambia with cerebral malaria. Most of the nearly half a million malaria deaths worlwide are children. Photo Mike Urban

Today, people everywhere around the globe mark World Malaria Day.

The idea is to raise awareness of the massive toll the disease on especially the poorest countries and the need to continue making progress in the fight against this parasitic disease.

In an earlier Humanosphere post, we explained how declining malaria deaths in children have occurred alongside increasing investment in malaria interventions. The following screen grab shows how donor funding for different health issues (including malaria) in sub-Saharan Africa has changed over time.

Development assistance for health in sub-Saharan Africa, 1990-2011

MalariaIHMENote: To use the live data visualization tool, visit the IHME website:

It’s well known that malaria is a major killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa, but it also causes substantial suffering, especially among children and the elderly.

In 2010, malaria was the leading killer in Central and West Africa and the third-leading cause of death in East Africa, but it also ranks high as a cause of disability, too. In Central and West Africa, malaria was the fifth- and fourth-leading cause of disability, respectively, as shown in the screen grab below. In East Africa, it was the 12th-highest cause of disability.

Top 25 causes of disability across selected regions, 2010

MalariaHeatMapThe next screen grab ranks causes of disability among West African countries. In terms of the disability it causes, malaria ranks highest in Mali (third) and lowest in Cape Verde (56th). It ranks among the top 10 causes of disability in every other country in West Africa with the exception of Mauritania.

MalariaHeatMap2The following screen grab shows disability rates from malaria across the life span in sub-Saharan Africa. The highest rates of disability are seen in babies aged 28 to 364 days, and higher rates persist through age 14. Rates of disability from malaria start to rise once again around age 70.


Note: YLDs: years lived with disability

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun recounted interviews with staff from a malaria research center and hospital in Kenya. The interviews revealed it was common for staff to take multiple days off work every month to care for their children when they were sickened by malaria or fell ill themselves from the disease.

A review of studies on the economic burden of malaria published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene reported most studies in Africa found adults missed one to five days of work each time they got sick. Also, in light of the elevated rates of malaria disability among children aged 5 to 9 years, it is easy to understand how this would have a negative impact on school attendance.



About Author

Katie Leach-Kemon

Katherine (Katie) Leach-Kemon is a policy translation specialist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Katie specializes in two of IHME's research areas, the Global Burden of Disease and health financing. Katie has helped produce IHME's Financing Global Health report since it was first published in 2009. She received an MPH from the University of Washington and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger. Her work has been published in The Lancet, Health Affairs, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. You can follow her on Twitter @kleachkemon.