Using maps to defeat malaria

We work closely with the Malaria Atlas Project whose research outputs make an important contribution to our ongoing role as auditors of the level of malaria risk, affected populations and disease burden in endemic countries.Dr Robert Newman, former Director, Global Malaria Programme, World Health Organization

Vector-borne diseases, especially those carried by mosquitoes, constitute some of the biggest threats to global public health. Malaria risk affects almost half the world's population, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the disease caused 660,000 deaths in 2010. The resources deployed worldwide to control malaria are huge but by no means limitless; WHO judges that current funding is less than half of what is ideally required.

It is vital that such resources are targeted effectively, and this requires accurate and detailed information about which areas are worst affected, and where malaria might conceivably be eliminated altogether. A particular problem is that, in countries where malaria is endemic, reporting of cases is often inaccurate.

The Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) in the Department of Zoology was set up specifically to address this issue. MAP has its origins in research in the Department dating back to the mid-1990s, when Professors David Rogers and Sarah Randolph were among the first to address key factors such as the impact of increasing urbanisation, international trade and climate change on the global spread of vector-borne diseases. They also identified the need for more complex maps of disease distribution that incorporated, for example, satellite data on weather that might help predict changes in vector distribution.

Subsequent mapping work led by Simon Hay in Zoology in collaboration with a constellation of international researchers developed a groundbreaking approach to mapping the global distribution of malaria using a combination of epidemiological, geographical and demographic data, and making use of advanced statistical techniques to help predict malaria distribution and overcome the limitations of partial reporting. .

Crucially, their research showed that in 2002 there were an estimated 515 million episodes of Plasmodium falciparum malaria (the most dangerous form) worldwide – far higher than figures reported by WHO, particularly for areas outside Africa. The interest generated by this research led directly to the founding of MAP, first funded by the Wellcome Trust in 2006 and then to the first new global malaria map for 40 years.

MAP data are used by many of the key organizations involved in malaria control, and helps underpin the cartography in WHO’s annual World Malaria Report, used widely in international and national level policy decision making. In recognition of this support, the Spatial Ecology and Epidemiology Group (SEEG) that houses MAP has recently been designated the only WHO Collaborating Centre in Geospatial Disease Modelling under the directorship of Professor Pete Gething.

Research funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Fund and a number of smaller foundations.

MAP’s global picture of the spatial distribution of Plasmodium falciparum malaria in 2010, showing malaria ‘hot spots’
MAP’s global picture of the spatial distribution of Plasmodium falciparum malaria in 2010, showing malaria ‘hot spots’


Malaria Atlas Project -

Spatial Ecology and Epidemiology Group (SEEG) -

WHO Global Malaria Programme -

WHO World Malaria Report 2013 -