Malaria In A Warmer World

In the tropics, elevation has long been used to shield human populations from diseases that are widespread in the lowlands. With global warming, mosquito-borne diseases have been reaching higher altitudes, affecting peoples with little or no immunity. According to Pim Martens, "[a] minor temperature rise will be sufficient to turn the populated African highlands into an area that is suitable for the malaria mosquito and parasite" (Martens, 1997, 537).

The malarial mosquito (Jeff Dixon)

During 1997, malaria ravaged large areas of Papua New Guinea at an elevation of 2,100 meters, notably higher than the 1,200 to 2,000 meters that had heretofore provided a barrier to the disease in different parts of central and southern Africa. In northwestern Pakistan, according to Martens, a rise of about half a degree Celsius in the mean temperature was a factor in a rising incidence of malaria there from a few hundred cases a year in the early 1980s to 25,000 in 1990 (Martens, 1999, 537). While most strains of malaria could be controlled, drug-resistant strains were proliferating in the late twentieth century.

Writing in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (March, 1998), Epstein and seven coauthors described the spread of malaria and dengue fever to higher altitudes in tropical areas of the Earth because of warmer temperatures. Rising winter temperatures have also allowed disease-bearing insects to survive in areas previously closed to them. According to Epstein, frequent flooding which is associated with warmer temperatures also promotes the growth of fungus and provides excellent breeding grounds for large numbers ofmosquitoes. The flooding caused by Hurricane Floyd and other storms in North Carolina during 1999 are cited by some as a real-world example of global warming promoting conditions ideal for the spread of diseases imported from the tropics (Epstein et al., 1998).

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's projections for human health, a rise in average global temperatures of 3°C to 5°C by 2100 could lead to 50 to 80 million additional cases of malaria a year worldwide, "primarily in tropical, subtropical and less well-protected temperate-zone populations" (IPCC, 1995). Italy experienced a brief outbreak of malaria during 1997. Researchers at Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research expect the same disease to reach the Baltic states by 2050. In parts of the world where malaria is now unknown most people have no immunity (Brown, 1999). The World Health Organization projected that warmer weather would cause tens of millions of additional cases of malaria and other infectious diseases. The Dutch health ministry anticipates that more than a million people may die annually as a result of the impact of global warming on malaria transmission in North America and Northern Europe (Epstein, 1999, 7).

Malaria could return to Britain, scientists at the University of Durham warned as they announced a plan to produce a "risk map" showing which areas were most likely to suffer an outbreak (Connor, 2001, 14). With millions of tourists visiting malaria-infested regions of the world, the risk of the disease making a comeback was further increased by global warming, which expanded mosquito habitat in the United Kingdom, said Rob Hutchinson, an entomologist at the university, at the annual meeting of The Royal Entomological Society in Aberdeen. He said that of the 25 million overseas visitors who came to Britain in 1999, about 260,000 came from Turkey and the countries of the former Soviet Union, where vivax malaria was endemic and health care was poor (Connor, 2001, 14).

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