By Richard Vaughan

It is a piece of good news that has probably escaped the attention of all but those with the most vested of interests: mortality rates for some of the world’s most lethal diseases are falling.

Last week, the world’s media reported on scientific research that predicts cases of malaria will increase in high-altitude areas as a result of global warming. 

The study suggests an extra 3 million people a year could catch the disease. But what has not been reported is that the number of malaria-related deaths has been steadily falling for more than a decade despite a rising population.

According to the most recent figures, released by the World Health Organisation in December, the death toll from malaria among under-5s has more than halved, dropping by 51 per cent between 2000 and 2012. The mortality rate for all age groups has fallen by an estimated 45 per cent over the same period. 

It is hoped that with continuing political pressure, malaria mortality could be pushed even lower, so that by 2015 it will have fallen 63 per cent for children under 5 and 56 per cent across all age groups. 

Similarly, between 2001 and 2012 the number of HIV infections worldwide plummeted by 33 per cent in total, with a 51 per cent fall among children. 

And deaths related to Aids – the syndrome that stems from an HIV infection and one of the world’s biggest killers – are down by 30 per cent since 2005. Although 1.6 million people died from the disease in 2012, the statistics are moving in the right direction. 

Deaths from the respiratory disease tuberculosis are also falling, with a dramatic 45 per cent drop between 1990 and 2012. That figure equates to an estimated 22 million lives being saved. 

And this week, while news stories covering the persistence of Polio in Pakistan have been abundant, most ignore the fact that the disease is on the brink of extinction. 

The infection rate of polio has fallen by 99 per cent since 1988, dropping from an estimated 350,000 cases to 223 reported sufferers in 2012. 

Other infections, such as dengue fever, are on the rise. But the wider picture for global diseases is one of good news, not bad.

Questions for debate and discussion

  1. What reasons can you think of for why the number of malaria-related deaths has been falling recently?
  2. There are many myths about how people contract AIDS and HIV. How can people actually protect themselves against these conditions?
  3. How do vaccinations work?
  4. What is the relationship between global warming and diseases like malaria?

Relevant resources

National Aids Trust has produced lesson plansideas for assemblies and HIV fact sheets to cover the topic with secondary students.

Hamilton Trust has shared a lesson plan to support teachers covering HIV with primary students, including guidance on use of language.

The Wellcome Trust has shared this video on mapping malaria around the world

For more resources and ideas from TES Connect partners and contributors, visit our resource calendar for World Malaria Day, which takes place on 25 April.