British researchers are helping Kenya and Uganda put together an early warning system that should allow medical authorities in those countries to react quicker and head off possible malaria outbreaks.
Over a million people die every year from malaria related complications, and one reason so many people die is that few people have immunity to malaria. Typically large numbers of people die when malaria epidemics break out in areas where the disease is not common.
Tarekegn Abeku of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told the BBC, “Most people don’t have immunity to malaria, so all the adult population and the children are affected. So the mortality rate can be very high in these areas when epidemic occur.”
Abeku is helping Kenya and Uganda predict when and where outbreaks are likely to occur through a combination of weather and disease monitoring.
On the weather side of things, unexpected malaria outbreaks tend to occur due to shifting weather patterns. According to Abeku,
Mainly, these epidemics are related to changes in weather conditions so we are also trying to set up data collection systems to collect material — meteorological data — that we can link with this morbidity data. We will use this information to develop a system that can be used for forecasting the average weather conditions and to use that to predict the probability of occurrence of epidemics.
In addition, health facilities will report malaria cases and death rates every week to health management teams which will be used with the weather data to predict any possible epidemics.
When researchers believe that conditions are right for an outbreak, they will treat people in the area for malaria in order to reduce the level of malaria parasite in the local population as well as possibly using insecticide to lower the mosquito population.
If the system proves successful in preventing malaria outbreaks, it could be used in other developing countries where malaria is a serious health problem.
Africa gets malaria early warning system. The BBC, May 5, 2002.