It remains uncertain whether malaria is an important cause of death among adults living in endemic areas1. One of the reasons for this uncertainty is that many countries with a high burden of malaria do not have a vital registration system. Malaria statistics for African countries published by the World Health Organization are based on the results of verbal autopsy in children under the age of five and provide little information on malaria mortality in adults2.
We further explored the importance of malaria as a cause of death in adults in Sierra Leone by performing a chart review of all patients admitted to one of three adult medical wards at Bo Government Hospital during the 2019 calendar year.
Ethical permission was granted by the Office of the Sierra Leone Ethics and Scientific Review Committee (dated March 15, 2022). Individual patient consent was not required because the study involved a retrospective chart review. Three investigators (SK, AA, IB) extracted data from the medical charts of unselected consecutive adults admitted with a laboratory diagnosis of malaria to one of three adult medical wards during 2019 as part of the Countrywide Mortality Surveillance for Action (COMSA) Sierra Leone Project3. The study included patients admitted over a 12-month period to provide a representative sample in view of the seasonal pattern of malaria. Eligible patients were identified based on review of laboratory results as documented in their medical charts and there were no execution criteria. Data extracted included age, sex, results of diagnostic testing for malaria, information on the severity of malaria as defined by the World Health Organization criteria4, and patient outcome.
Data were summarised as counts and mean and standard deviation for continuous variables, and number and percentage for categorical variables. Analyses were performed using SAS version 9.4.
All investigators are listed as authors and had complete access to study data.
Results are summarised in Table 15. Of 893 adult admissions, 149 (59% female, mean age 58.5 years [SD 13.0]) had a laboratory diagnosis of malaria based on positive rapid diagnostic test or parasitemia on blood film. Of these, 20 (13.4%) were categorized as having severe malaria.
|Characteristic and outcome||Admissions with malaria|
|Age, mean (SD)||58.5 (SD 13.0)|
|Female, n (%)||84 (59.2%)|
|Malaria severity, n (%)|
|Deaths, n (%)†||22 (14.8%)|
Of 149 patients with a malaria diagnosis, 22 (14.8%) died. Mortality was significantly higher among patients whose chart review included criteria for severe malaria compared with those who had non-severe malaria (6/20 [30%] versus 16/129 [12.4%], p=0.031).
The results of our chart review indicate that 1 in 7 adult patients admitted to Bo Government Hospital with laboratory confirmed malaria died. As expected, the mortality rate was highest in patients admitted with severe malaria but most deaths still occurred in patients who did not have severe disease.
Our data have some limitations. First, rapid diagnostic tests for malaria may be associated with both false positive and false negative results. It is likely that some adults had other underlying acute medical conditions leading to hospitalization but were categorized as having malaria due to an incidental finding of parasitemia on rapid testing or blood film examination. Second, classification of the severity of malaria was limited by lack of complete medical information, and it is possible that misclassification of the severity of disease explains the higher-than-expected mortality rate in those with non-severe malaria. Third, we did not have access to treatment information or the possible presence of drug resistance. Finally, it is unclear whether concomitant infections, such as bacteremia, or other conditions may have contributed to malaria mortality seen in our study.
The large number of malaria admissions and high malaria mortality among adults observed during 2019 at Bo Government Hospital is consistent with emerging data that malaria is a significant contributor to adult mortality. The Indian Million Death Study (MDS) suggested a higher adult mortality rate than expected, especially in persons aged over 45 years6. Similar results were reported by the International Network for Demographic Evaluation of Populations and their Health (INDEPTH) Network7. The Sierra Leone Sample Registration System (SL-SRS) of births and deaths performed between September 1, 2019 and December 15, 2020 found that malaria accounted for 22% of deaths under the age of 70 years and was a leading cause of death in adults4.
Our data from Bo Government Hospital further highlight the substantial burden of adult malaria mortality in Africa and underscore the urgent need for implementation of more effective prevention and treatment strategies.
|Gates Open Research||-||-|
| PubMed Central |
Data from PMC are received and updated monthly.
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