Malaria control: the power of integrated action

Human toll and economic costs of malaria

Over 1.2 million people – overwhelmingly children – died of malaria in 2002. This figure reflects an increase in mortality in absolute terms over the previous year, according to data published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its World health report 2004 (4). Also in 2002, the total burden of disease from malaria was estimated by WHO to be 46 486 000 Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost. This figure represents the combined toll of death, illness, and disability from the disease.

Over 85% of malaria deaths, disease, and disability occur in the African Region, with the South-East Asia and Eastern Mediterranean Regions being the second and third hardest-hit by malaria (4,6). Some experts suggest an even higher incidence of malaria cases than that reported by countries, both in Africa and globally (7).

Vector borne disease illustration
FAO/10723/P. Gigli; UNEP/Topham

Malaria-related illness, in turn, has a direct impact on economic productivity. In the Côte d'Ivoire, farmers diagnosed as sick from malaria for more than two days out of a growing season had 47% lower yields and 53% lower revenues than farmers who missed no more than two days of work (8–10). In general, families highly affected by disease of various kinds may turn from growing higher value crops to less labour demanding and yield-sensitive products – with consequences for household income and nutrition (10). An analysis of economic growth over 25 years found that countries with intense malaria had rates of GDP growth that were 1.3% lower than those in comparable countries with less intense malaria (11). Another analysis found that countries with more than 50% of the population living at risk of infection from malaria parasites had average income levels that were one third of those in countries with less intense rates of disease, even when other confounding factors were removed (12).