A study has found that approximately 205,000 deaths due to malaria occur in India every year. The majority of malaria deaths occur in people age 15-69 years (120,000), followed by children under age five (55,000) and age 5-14 years (30,000).

India is the most populous country in which malaria is common. The cases and deaths reported by the Indian government are concentrated mainly in a few states in east and northeast India (the so-called high-malaria states; mainly Orissa but also Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and the states in the far northeast of India).

These new results greatly exceed the World Health Organization’s estimate of only 15,000 malaria deaths per year in India. “This low estimate should be reconsidered, as should the low WHO estimate of adult malaria deaths worldwide,” the study said.

The methods of the new study, which used “verbal autopsies” to assign the cause of death, have been criticized by WHO.

1. Dhingra N, Jha P, Sharma VP, et al. Adult and child malaria mortality in India: a nationally representative mortality survey. Lancet, published online 21 Oct 2010. (open access: free registration required)