2 December 2011

Africa: Climate Change Exacerbates Malaria Menace

Photo: Stuart Price/UN Photo
Mothers sit with their malnourished children in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

The scourge of malaria in Africa is barely abating despite the millions of dollars sunk annually into combating the sickness, and now malaria appears to have found a new accomplice in global warming.

Drawing attention to recent studies carried out on the continent and other places where malaria is prevalent such as Brazil and Myanmar, Dr Kunle Oguntuashe of the Forest Research Institute of Nigeria (FRIN) pointed to the senseless logging and deforestation in the Western, Eastern and Niger Delta regions of Nigeria where the attendant climate change has intensified the threat of malaria.

Nigeria, with Africa's largest population, is said to have more people affected by malaria than any other country in the world. Malaria parasites borne by mosquitoes kill one million people each year, among them 300 000 Nigerians.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of annual deaths, malaria also makes millions of Nigerians sick. This single disease accounts for about 60 percent of outpatient visits and 30 percent of hospitalisations; 25 percent of deaths in children under one year old; and 11 percent of maternal deaths --a heavy burden on Nigeria's families, communities, health system, and workforce. While it would cost an estimated $3 billion per year to end malaria deaths worldwide, Nigeria records an estimated $906 million financial loss to malaria that significantly reduces the country's development prospects.

Oguntuashe further explained that in the last ten years, the malaria index has increased, a development that cannot be divorced from the accelerating global warming. The Nigerian environmentalist cited a recent study in Kenya, funded by the UK Department of International Development (DFID), showing that the average temperature in the Central Highlands was 17C in 1989, with malaria completely absent from the region. This is because the parasite which causes malaria can only mature above 18C. But with temperatures today averaging 19C, mosquitoes are carrying the disease into the higher altitudes resulting in epidemics in areas that had previously been immune.

Malaria, a parasitic disease spread to humans by mosquitoes, is common in warm climates of Africa, South America and South Asia. The development and survival, both of the mosquito and the malaria parasite are highly sensitive to daily and seasonal temperature patterns with the disease traditionally rare in cooler highland areas.

The forest researcher blamed climate change in Nigeria and malaria prevalence on corruption, saying the country's rich forests are laid bare by profit-minded loggers with licenses bought from corrupt politicians.

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