Thursday, May 27, 2010

In the midst of global warming

Doomsday reports of malaria epidemics, stirred by global warming, have reared ominously for decades. New studies show that contrary “to a widespread assumption, global warming is unlikely to expand the range of malaria because of malaria control, development and other factors that are at work to corral the disease.”

“Scientists and public policy makers have been concerned that warming temperatures would create conditions that would either push malaria into new areas or make it worse in existing ones.” But a team of scientists, “including two University of Florida researchers, … analyzed a historical contraction of the geographic range and general reduction in the intensity of malaria -- a contraction that occurred over a century during which the globe warmed. They determined that if the future trends are like past ones, the contraction is likely to continue under the most likely warming scenarios.”

"If we continue to fund malaria control, we can certainly be prepared to counteract the risk that warming could expand the global distribution of malaria," one researcher said.

Malaria “control efforts over the past century have shrunk the prevalence of the disease”. "The globe warmed over the past century, but the range of malaria contracted substantially," Researcher Tatem said. "Warming isn't the only factor that affects malaria."

Reduction in malaria prevalence is attributed to mosquito control efforts, better health care, urbanization, and economic development. “The banned pesticide DDT was instrumental in ridding the disease from 24 countries in Southern Europe, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere in the world between 1955 and 1969.” “Researchers debate how the U.S. defeated malaria, but the reduction of mosquito breeding grounds, improved housing and reduced emphasis on agriculture that comes with development -- and the reduced risk of bites that accompanies urbanization -- probably played a role,” according to Researcher Smith.

"Malaria remains a huge public health problem, and the international community has an unprecedented opportunity to relieve this burden with existing interventions," Simon Hay, author of the Nature paper, said. "Any failure in meeting this challenge will be very difficult to attribute to climate change."

Peter W. Gething, David L. Smith, Anand P. Patil, Andrew J. Tatem, Robert W. Snow, Simon I. Hay. Climate change and the global malaria recession. Nature, 2010; 465 (7296): 342 DOI: 10.1038/nature09098

University of Florida (2010, May 19). Malaria control to overcome disease’s spread as climate warms. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 27, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/05/100519143413.htm

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