The deadly impact of malaria in India could be much worse than previously thought, according to a new report that claims 13 times more people may annually die from the disease.
The study, carried out by the Centre for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto and published in The Lancet, said perhaps 205,000 people in India die every year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had previously estimated there were around 15,000 such fatalities.
"If WHO estimates of malaria deaths in India or among adults worldwide are likely to be serious underestimates, this could substantially change disease control strategies, particularly in the rural parts of states with high malaria burden," the researchers wrote, urging that official figures be revised so that adequate funding to fight the disease can be allocated.
The researchers claimed the WHO method of recording deaths from malaria was flawed as it relied on data about patients who had been treated by a doctor. In reality, many deaths in India, especially those in rural areas or among communities that do not have access to affordable clinics, occur at home rather than in a hospital.
The WHO has dismissed the new figure. It said that the method used was flawed since it depended on interviews with care workers and relatives of people who had died and symptoms reported were typical of many fevers.
"Although the present estimation procedures have their limitations, WHO has serious doubts about the high estimate of 200,000 malaria deaths in India," a WHO spokesman told Reuters.