Plasmodium falciparum malaria is classified as either uncomplicated or severe, determining clinical management and providing a framework for understanding pathogenesis. Severe malaria in children is defined by the presence of one or more features associated with adverse outcome, but there is wide variation in the predictive value of these features. Here we review the evidence for the usefulness of these features, alone and in combination, to predict death and other adverse outcomes, and we consider the role that molecular biomarkers may play in augmenting this prediction. We also examine whether a more personalized approach to predicting outcome for specific presenting syndromes of severe malaria, particularly cerebral malaria, has the potential to be more accurate. We note a general need for better external validation in studies of outcome predictors and for the demonstration that predictors can be used to guide clinical management in a way that improves survival and long-term health.
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