The study shows that deforestation in Southeast Asia increases malaria infection before it leads to subsequent reductions, although these effects can vary with the location of forest loss.
Deforestation may cause an initial increase in malaria infection across Southeast Asia before it leads to subsequent declines, according to a study published today in eLife She suggests.
The results may help the region’s malaria programs develop better strategies to eliminate malaria infection and educate residents on how to protect themselves from infection.
Mosquitoes spread the malaria parasite to humans, causing infections that can be severe and sometimes fatal. In the area along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, many people hunt or harvest wood in the surrounding forests, which may increase their risk of infection. However, recent malaria outbreaks in the region have been linked to deforestation.
Senior author Francois Reroli, a graduate student researcher at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), USA, who works with the End Malaria Initiative of the University of California, San Francisco, says.
To better understand the effects of deforestation on malaria transmission, Reruli and colleagues examined forest cover data and village-level malaria incidence data from 2013-2016 in two regions within the Greater Mekong sub-region.
They found that in the first two years after deforestation activities, malaria infection increased in the area’s villages, but then decreased in subsequent years. This trend was mostly driven by infection with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Deforestation in villages surrounding villages with a radius of 1 to 10 km did not affect rates of malaria infection, but deforestation in a radius of 30 km around villages did. The authors say this is likely due to the impact that large-scale deforestation can have on human behavior. “We suspect that people making longer and deeper trips into the woods lead to an increased exposure to mosquitoes, putting forest-goers at risk,” says Reroli.
Previously, studies of the South American Amazon found an increase in malaria incidence in the first 6-8 years after deforestation, after which malaria rates decreased. The difference in timing may be due to regional differences. Previous studies in the Amazon have looked at deforestation led by non-indigenous people who move deeper into the forest, while the communities in the current study have long lived on the edge of the forest and depend on subsistence farming.
“Our work provides a more complete picture of the exact impacts of deforestation on malaria contagion,” says senior author Adam Bennett, program head at the End Malaria Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco. “It may encourage more in-depth studies on the environmental and behavioral drivers of malaria to help guide disease eradication strategies.”
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