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Scientists Begin Drawing Global Malaria Map


Researchers from Britain and Kenya are creating a global malaria map to pinpoint exactly where the disease is most likely to strike. VOA's Catherine Maddux reports.

It is called the Malaria Atlas Project, and it is supported by Oxford University and the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Dr. Simon Hay, one of the lead scientists on the project, says the last reliable map of so-called "malaria hot spots" was created in 1968.

"Since that time, it is obvious that many things will have changed. But we do not have a more up to date version globally," he said.

Hay says with all the money being raised to combat malaria, it is particularly important to have precise information about exactly which communities are suffering the most from malaria, a preventable but often deadly disease.

"In a day and age now where we have the Global Fund, which is distributing large amounts of money for national control programs to control TB [tuberculosis], HIV and malaria, it is really important to start auditing how many people are likely to get ill, how many people are likely to die so then we can assess much more rigorously what level of commodities we need per country," he continued. "So, for example, how many effective drugs do we need each year? How many bednets do we need to cover all the pregnant women and children?"

The map will be based on data from parasite surveys, population censuses and satellite information. Hay says current national reporting of malaria is highly inadequate and is often based on best guesses. So the scientists will also use statistical approaches to project expected disease patterns for areas where information on rates of infection are unreliable.

The first version of the map should be available in 12 to 18 months. Hay says people will be able to see the map on the internet as it evolves.

"You can access them [two ways], through kind of just image maps that you would download. Or you can download a special file which you can open through Google Earth and you can zoom into your country or your area of interest and see where the parasite rate surveys have been done," said Dr. Simon Hay of Malaria Atlas Project.

The release date for the fully completed malaria map is set for 2009.

The mosquito-borne disease kills more than a million people a year, mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa. The regions where malaria is most prevalent include sub-Saharan Africa, South America, the Middle East, India and China.

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