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International collaborative effort pinpoints relationship between climate and malaria in Limpopo

Publication Date: 
Thursday, June 22, 2017

South Africa has experienced an unprecedented outbreak of malaria in several districts in Limpopo this year. The CSIR-hosted Alliance for Collaboration on Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS) Programme, in collaboration with researchers in Japan, have studied the malaria outbreak in Limpopo, as well as worldwide climate phenomena and discovered that there is an association between climate change and malaria.

Contact Person

Tendani Tsedu

012 841 3417

mtsedu@csir.co.za

South Africa has experienced an unprecedented outbreak of malaria in several districts in Limpopo this year. The CSIR-hosted Alliance for Collaboration on Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS) Programme, in collaboration with researchers in Japan, have studied the malaria outbreak in Limpopo, as well as worldwide climate phenomena and discovered that there is an association between climate change and malaria. The findings have been published in the prestigious Nature journal (http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-02680-6)

This South Africa/Japan collaboration aims to deliver an operational early warning system for malaria, diarrheal disease and pneumonia incidence in the Limpopo region. It is anticipated that this system will set a precedent in South Africa and potentially for the entire Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The team’s analyses revealed that a high incidence of malaria during the pre-peak rainy/malaria season of September to November is associated with the La Nina events, generally wetter and cooler than average over southern Africa. Additionally, a higher than normal precipitation over the neighbouring countries of Mozambique and Zimbabwe, two to six months prior to local malaria outbreaks, worsened the incidence of malaria in Limpopo during this period.

According to the paper,  authored by Dr Takayoshi Ikeda of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology,  and co-authored with other Japanese and South African colleagues, additional ocean-atmosphere phenomena, such as the Indian Ocean Subtropical Dipole, which, in its positive phase, sees warmer sea surface temperatures and higher precipitation than normal in the neighbouring countries two months prior to the peak malaria season locally, can explain locally recorded malaria incidence variability. The paper states that “such a lagged association between climate signals and malaria incidence suggests that management plans for high-risk malaria areas should consider not only local climate patterns, but also those of neighbouring countries”. It also states that “together with data on malaria incidence in neighbouring states, the results emphasise the need to strengthen cross-border co-operation in the control of malaria, which would be an essential element of the malaria elimination strategy”. 

Dr Neville Sweijd, Director of the ACCESS programme, says that this is a significant achievement that “demonstrates how collaboration among our researchers, locally and internationally, can bear fruit in a very tangible way”.

The research project is titled ‘Infectious Diseases Early Warning System’ or iDEWS. It is one of the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development’s projects emanating from a bilateral agreement among the South African Department of Science and Technology, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development.

ENDS

For general information, please contact Tendani Tsedu, CSIR Group Manager: Strategic Communications on 012 841 3417/ 082 945 1980 or email mtsedu@csir.co.za

For technical information, please contact Dr Neville Sweijd, ACCESS Director on 021 658 3992/ 082 968 9660 or email nsweijd@access.ac.za

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