Warmer temperatures spreading malaria in Africa

Malaria is spreading to higher altitude regions in Africa where people are unaware of its dangers
Millions more exposed as disease moves into higher altitude areas in Kenya and Tanzania

The spread of malaria in Africa has been directly linked to climate change and rising temperatures in a study published by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI).

Researchers have been looking at the increase in outbreaks of the disease amongst the four million people living on the slopes of Mount Kenya.

Similar outbreaks elsewhere have been attributed to factors such as drug resistance and land use change but the KEMRI study claims the only change that has occurred recently in the area that might have lead to an increase in malaria is in mean annual temperatures, which have risen from 17 degrees in 1989 to nearly 19 degrees today.

The malaria parasite can only mature in temperatures above 18 degrees.

Previously absent

Malaria had previously been absent in the Central Highlands district. However, as average temperatures rose over the 18 degree tipping point in the 1990s, malaria epidemics began to break out among the population.

In 2005, malaria-carrying mosquitoes were discovered in Naru Moro in the Kenyan Central Highlands at heights over 1,900 metres above sea level.

Similar uphill movements of the disease have also been reported in neighbouring Tanzania.

The UN has predicted that  an extra 400 million people could be exposed to malaria by 2080 due to climate change.

The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which both part-funded the Kenyan research, have been funding the provision of mosquito nets to the local community.

'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,' said Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander.
'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.'

Useful links

Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)

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