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Climate change challenge to combat malaria

A map of Papua New Guinea and surrounding countries.
(Wikimedia Commons )

Malaria remains a major killer in Papua New Guinea, with 700 deaths from the disease in 2007, although the World Health Organization (WHO) says the number is higher as many cases in remote areas go unrecorded.

"Outbreaks of malaria in the highlands continue to have high mortality," said WHO's country representative in PNG, Eigil Sorensen.

About one million PNG residents were infected with malaria last year. With the change in climate patterns and increase in temperatures, the number of cases, particularly in the highlands, is expected to increase, according to health experts.

A study by the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR), www.pngimr.org.pg, concluded that the highlands region faced a high risk of malaria, with temperatures rising due to global warming.


"More effort will be required if PNG is to reach the Millennium Development Goal to halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria by 2015," said Sorenson.

According to the PNGIMR survey, the population at risk of endemic malaria will rise from 65 percent in 2000 to 95 percent by 2100.

At a seminar on global warming and the increasing risk of malaria, Ivo Mueller from the PNGIMR said that in the areas where malaria had been controlled with DDT from 1960 to 1980, 70 percent of the total population were protected, with a malaria prevalence rate of less than 1 percent and no epidemics.

''In one village, the morbidity was so severe the villagers decided to relocate the entire village higher up the valley.''

"In the late 1970s, the control programme was virtually abandoned due to financial and logistical constraints," Mueller said. "The malaria situation in the PNG highlands has received very little attention in the last 30 years.

"Malaria epidemics are frequently reported but rarely investigated and accurate data for most areas is lacking," Mueller told IRIN.

He and his team from the PNGIMR were involved between December 2000 and June 2005 in a PNG highlands mapping project, which included conducting a rapid malaria assessment in all major highland areas. They produced risk maps of malaria transmission and made recommendations for controlling malaria.

Between December 2000 and June 2005, the PNGIMR assessed 23,301 people in 118 communities in 161 surveys in highlands and fringe areas.

"In one village, the morbidity was so severe the villagers decided to relocate the entire village higher up the valley," Mueller said.

Global warming ups the ante

The PNGIMR survey concluded that global warming would increasingly put everyone in PNG at great risk of contracting malaria. At present, malaria only affects those in coastal provinces.

Mueller predicted that by 2030, with rising temperatures, endemic malaria would be prevalent up to 1,530m above sea level; by 2050 up to 1,750m.

Ultimately, the epidemic would occur in all highland areas below 2,100m. "One thing is clear," he said, "with increasing temperatures the malaria problem in the highlands will increase."

Sorensen told IRIN there was a need "to strengthen public health systems to cope with the threats posed by climate change".

PNG Minister for Health Sasa Zibe concurred, saying the government and other stakeholders had to intensify their efforts in preventative public health measures and make it a key agenda item for sustainable development.

"I agree with the WHO that developing countries like PNG, which is struggling to prevent, detect, control and treat diseases and health conditions, including malaria, malnutrition and diarrhoea, can be hit hard if we do not take ownership of our own problems right now," Zibe said.


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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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