A long-held assumption has been that nearly all malaria deaths in high-transmission areas are of children younger than 5 years and pregnant women. Most global malaria mortality estimates incorporate this assumption in their calculations. In 2010, the Indian Million Death Study, which assigns cause of death by verbal autopsy (VA), challenged the reigning perception, producing a U-shaped mortality age curve, with rates rising after age 45 years in areas of India with substantial malaria transmission. Similar patterns are seen in Africa in the INDEPTH network, also relying on VA. Whether these results are accurate or are misidentified deaths can be resolved by improving the evidence for assigning causes for adult acute infectious deaths in high malaria transmission areas. The options for doing so include improving the accuracy of VA and adding postmortem biological evidence, steps we believe should be initiated without delay.
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