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Climate change and the resurgence of malaria in the East African highlands

Abstract

The public health and economic consequences of Plasmodium falciparum malaria are once again regarded as priorities for global development. There has been much speculation on whether anthropogenic climate change is exacerbating the malaria problem, especially in areas of high altitude where P. falciparum transmission is limited by low temperature1,2,3,4. The International Panel on Climate Change has concluded that there is likely to be a net extension in the distribution of malaria and an increase in incidence within this range5. We investigated long-term meteorological trends in four high-altitude sites in East Africa, where increases in malaria have been reported in the past two decades. Here we show that temperature, rainfall, vapour pressure and the number of months suitable for P. falciparum transmission have not changed significantly during the past century or during the period of reported malaria resurgence. A high degree of temporal and spatial variation in the climate of East Africa suggests further that claimed associations between local malaria resurgences and regional changes in climate are overly simplistic.

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Figure 1: Number of months suitable for P. falciparum malaria transmission defined by the Garnham criteria (temperature > 15 °C and rainfall > 152 mm in two consecutive months)24.
Figure 2: Meteorological time series from Kericho.
Figure 3: Spatio-temporal variation in temperature and rainfall in East Africa.

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Acknowledgements

S.I.H. is an Advanced Training Fellow of the Wellcome Trust. J.C. is supported by the UK Department for International Development. S.E.R. is a Natural Environment Research Council (UK) Senior Research Fellow. G.D.S. is supported by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The opinions and assertions contained herein are private views of the authors and are not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the US Department of Defense. R.W.S. is a Senior Wellcome Trust Fellow and acknowledges the support of the Kenya Medical Research Institute. We thank T. R. E. Southwood, R. Rosenberg, M. Hutchinson and M. New for comments.

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Hay, S., Cox, J., Rogers, D. et al. Climate change and the resurgence of malaria in the East African highlands. Nature 415, 905–909 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/415905a

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