NEW DELHI, Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Deaths from malaria in India may be as much as 10 times higher than official World Health Organization estimates, researchers say.
A new survey suggests malaria kills between 125,000 and 277,000 people per year in India alone, far higher than the 16,000 toll WHO counts, NewScientist.com reports.
Estimates of malaria deaths in India are based on death rates recorded in clinics, corrected in an attempt to account for people missed by the health system, but a study by international researchers has found that these numbers have been vastly underestimated.
Researchers from the University of Toronto and other universities have been collaborating with the Indian government on a survey of 1.1 million households across India to improve the country's health statistics.
They have been recoding "verbal autopsies," in which householders describe how family members died, to count deaths that were never officially diagnosed.
"When we've done studies of malaria control in Indian villages, we've seen so many really nasty cases of the disease that I always wondered why the official estimate was so low," Richard Peto of the University of Oxford says. "Malaria deaths happen out in the countryside. They're invisible to the healthcare system."
Another researchers says he is not surprised the study found more malaria deaths then the official estimate, but calls it "startling" that as many as 86 percent never saw a doctor.
"India has a space program but cannot provide prompt access to malaria treatment in Orissa state [where deaths are highest]," Bob Snow of Oxford University said.
"This study will surely be a wake-up call."