Climate change is increasing the risk of malaria for people living in mountainous regions in the tropics

 

Science Editor

Millions of people living at higher altitudes in the tropics will be at risk of malaria as a result of rising temperatures and climate change, according to an analysis of the disease over the past two decades in two mountainous regions in South America and Africa.

Scientists found that when temperatures increased, malaria affected people at higher altitudes than when temperatures were cooler. It is the first study on the ground to show how temperature changes can affect the risk of malaria in populations living 1,200 metres above sea level.

Although researchers have long debated whether malaria will move as a result of climate change, this is one of the first studies showing that the disease does migrate higher when temperatures rise, which threatens the many millions of people who live in historically malaria-free regions of the high-altitude tropics.

“We have identified that malaria does indeed move up and down and that the movement is temperature dependent. It’s been difficult to prove and people have been questioning it now for 20 years,” said Menno Bouma of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was part of the research team.

“The implications are that if this is true, and that a global warming is occurring leading to an increase in temperatures, then malaria will increase at higher altitudes where many people live. The high altitude areas in the tropics are particularly highly populated,” Dr Bouma said.

“They are more populated than the lowlands partly because there is more rainfall but also partly because there has been less malaria. They have been privileged places to live because of that, and many of these people have not been exposed to malaria and so will not be naturally protected against it,” he said.

The study, published in the journal Science, looked at malaria cases in the Antioquia region of western Colombia from 1990 to 2005 and the Debre Zeit area of central Ethiopia from 1993 to 2005. The researchers matched malaria outbreaks at various altitudes with temperature records to show how the disease rises and falls with warmer or cooler years.

Previous research in the Debre Zeit region of Ethiopia – where 37 million people live in rural areas at risk of higher malaria exposure under a warming climate – estimated that a 1C increase in average local temperatures will result in an extra three million children contracting malaria every year.

“Traditionally, we think of malaria as a disease with limited prevalence in highland regions, but we are now seeing a shift due to climate change. Our latest research suggests that with progressive global warming, malaria will creep up the mountains and spread to new, high-altitude areas. And because these populations lack protective immunity, they will be particularly vulnerable for severe morbidity and mortality,” Dr Bouma said.

Mercedes Pascual of the University of Michigan, a senior author of the study, said: “We saw an upward expansion of malaria cases to higher altitudes in warmer years, which is a clear signal of a response by highland malaria to changes in climate. This is indisputable evidence of a climate effect. The main implication is that with warmer temperatures, we expect to see a higher number of people exposed to the risk of malaria in tropical highland areas like these.”

Malaria, which infects more than 300 million people each year, is caused by a single-celled microbe called Plasmodium that is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito. Both the Plasmodium and the malaria-carrying mosquitoes thrive in warmer temperatures and so with rising temperatures can survive at higher altitudes that have traditionally been malaria-free.

Dr Bouma said that many millions of people in the tropics live at higher altitudes because they have been historically at lower risk of malaria and other tropical diseases. For instance, 43 per cent of Ethiopia’s population live in the Debre Zeit region, at an elevation of between 1,600 metres and 2,410 metres.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's First World War footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during the war. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end