Mapping helps to count malaria out

The Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) has been working hard over the past several years to assemble what is known – published and unpublished – about the distribution of malaria around the world.  A press release notes that now, “The most detailed map ever created of malaria risk worldwide is published today by an international team of researchers funded by the Wellcome Trust. The Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) will be a powerful tool for helping target malaria control programmes and suggests that elimination of malaria in three-quarters of the world’s at-risk areas might be less difficult than previously thought.”

The Executive Director of the Global Fund has stressed the importance of MAP in helping donors like GFATM measure and count progress of their investments: “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.”

While the publication of the 2007 MAP in this month’s PLoS Medicine marks a culmination in efforts to locate Plasmodium falciparum in the world, it is also a baseline for future updating.  The team now wants to map vivax malaria, too. In addition, the team has been publishing findings in over 30 scientific articles since 2004.

A particularly instructive publication concerned comparison of ITN coverage compared with levels of malaria endemicity and poverty. They documented that areas with some of the highest levels of malaria as well as largest burden of disease have some of the lowest levels of net coverage.  Nigeria was a case in point where its large population accounts for 25% of the children at risk in stable transmission areas of Africa and yet its net coverage was projected at 4% for 2007.

Another important finding from the net study was the clear indication that net distribution mechanism affected coverage.  The best coverage was achieved where nets were free, followed by areas with subsidies. The lowest coverage figures were found in areas where nets were made available through the commercial sector.  Such information about distribution strategies and coverage can help national program planners.

The continued success of MAP depends on researchers and program managers in endemic countries.  Data need to be shared on a regular basis so that the malaria maps can be updated and national and international partners can better target their interventions.  Researchers and program managers with up-to-date malaria information are encouraged to share their results with the MAP team at map@zoo.ox.ac.uk.

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