Thursday, December 31, 2009

Climate change increasing malaria risk, research reveals

UK-funded research shows climate change has caused a seven-fold increase in cases of malaria on the slopes of Mount Kenya

Press Association, Thursday 31 December 2009

Rising temperatures on the slopes of Mount Kenya have put an extra 4 million people at risk of malaria, research funded by the UK government warned today.

Climate change has raised average temperatures in the Central Highlands region of Kenya, allowing the disease to creep into higher altitude areas where the population has little or no immunity.

The findings by a research team funded by the UK Department for International Development (DfID), showed that seven times more people are contracting the disease in outbreaks in the region than 10 years ago.

The team from the Kenyan Medical Research Institute (Kemri) said that while similar outbreaks elsewhere have been attributed to multiple factors including drug resistance and changes in land use, the only change on Mount Kenya is a rise in temperature.

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, mosquitos are carrying the disease into high altitude areas and epidemics have begun to break out among humans.

Kemri is using climate models to predict when epidemics might occur up to three months in advance, giving authorities time to stock up on medicine and warn the public of the dangers.

The institute is also using church meetings and local health clinics to educate people in high-altitude areas on how climate change could be leading to the spread of malaria into their area.

In the west Kenyan highlands, where malaria has been present since the late 1980s, programmes have been providing mosquito nets for people to sleep under - with DfID providing 14m bed nets since 2001.

But because malaria is a relatively new phenomenon, less than half of those who own bed nets use them, DfID said.

In areas where researchers have been encouraging people to use themthe incidence of malaria has dropped markedly and epidemics have been all but eradicated.

The international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, said: "The spread of malaria in the Mount Kenya region is a worrying sign of things to come.

"Without strong and urgent action to tackle climate change, malaria could infect areas without any experience of the disease.

"That's why we need to make sure vulnerable, developing nations such as Kenya have the support they need to tackle the potentially devastating impacts of climate change."

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