There is a high probability that changes in climate might lead to higher cases of malaria in populated regions of Africa and South America. Without proper control and prevention, this could lead to a serious epidemic. Experts have noted that as temperatures rise in certain areas, the hold of the virus on residents grows exponentially.
The disease, which infects almost 220 million people every year, is carried by a special type of mosquito. Victims usually contract the disease when bitten by a female Anopheles mosquito that has been infected. Observations revealed that malaria cases usually dropped when temperatures fell and rose during warmer weathers. This discovery indicated that the overall change in global climate might in turn cause an increase in the number of people falling victim to malaria each year.
This also means that areas which previously had climates where certain mosquito could not survive would also become vulnerable to the disease. These areas include mountain areas or those at a higher altitude where the temperatures are often much cooler. People living in these areas would be at a greater disadvantage than those who live in areas where malaria is a norm.
Since the virus would be new to the environment, many might not have developed the proper immunity to it. This would mean that their bodies would be less resistant against the disease as compared to patients in other areas. For that reason, the number of people falling sick or falling victim to the disease would increase exponentially worldwide.
This link was not just recently discovered but has been under investigation for over two decades. Menno Bouma, a clinical lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published a few science journals that go as far back as 20 years. The first set of data collected came from Debre Zeit (now known as Bishoftu) in Ethiopia.
It was noted that both the Plasmodium genus that causes the virus and the mosquito that transmits it thrive in and prefer warmer temperatures. To gather further evidence, Bouma and certain other experts collected data from Cambodia and Ethiopia in a certain period of time. To obtain accurate results, other factors that impact change in malaria cases were excluded. These included mosquito-control programs, changes in rainfall patterns, resistance in the Anopheles mosquito to malaria-resistant drugs, and so on. Keeping only the change in climate as a factor, the results did indeed coincide with the previous notion. Years where the temperatures were relatively warmer had higher numbers of malaria cases as compared to years where colder temperatures were recorded.
It was also noted that underdeveloped regions or rural areas in developing countries were much more susceptible to the disease. Hence, a global overall trend cannot be concluded. It is also not clear whether climate change is indeed the primary cause for such variations or if other factors are at play. Researchers who carried out the observations and experiments agreed that their data was limited to just two countries. Before linking climate change to variations in malaria cases, further data from different countries needs to be collected.
Malaria has already claimed numerous lives over the years and continues to do so everyday. If indeed there is a possible link, then preventive measures need to be taken as this could lead to a serious outbreak. Not only areas that frequently suffer the plague will be affected, but the virus would also be introduced to an ecosystem where the indigenous population might not have any form of defense against it.
By Hammad Ali