Climate change research findings provided for policy discussions in Africa

TDR news item
4 July 2017

New TDR-supported research on climate change impact has produced evidence on how to increase resilience to diseases like malaria and schistosomiasis in 7 African countries. The results of this project have been summarized in policy briefs that are being used for further discussion and planning.

Community meeting reviewing climate change research evidence
Community meeting reviewing climate change research evidence
Credit: WHO/TDR/Andy Craggs

Vector-borne diseases – which are transmitted by vectors like mosquitoes and flies – are sensitive to different impacts of climate change, including fluctuations in weather and temperature. Lack of specific knowledge about the impact of climate change on these diseases, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been a serious obstacle to establishing new policies that could develop stronger resiliency in communities.

To address this gap, TDR has supported a research initiative, Population health vulnerabilities to vector-borne diseases: increasing resilience under climate change conditions in Africa, in partnership with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. It includes 5 projects led by researchers from institutions in Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mauritania, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. They are working in collaboration with national disease control programmes, the environment sector and vulnerable communities.

The research concluded this year with a review of the results across all projects and the development of summaries designed for policy makers. These are available on the web platform set up for the site, and are being used for updating national health and environment strategic plans and other relevant policies.

Here are a few highlights from the policy briefs per project:

Social, environmental and climate change impact of vector-borne diseases in arid areas of southern Africa. This research project, undertaken in specific dryland ecologies in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, found that community perceptions on the trends of malaria and schistosomiasis can be useful for rapid assessment of the public health significance of these diseases in the context of a fragile health system. A community-based early warning system, based on observations of weather phenomena (droughts, floods, heat waves and rainfall variability), was developed as part of this project.

The policy brief makes 11 recommendations, including involving the community more on collecting and analyzing data, using indigenous knowledge and monitoring vector populations.

Drylands in Tanzania
Drylands in Tanzania
Credit: WHO/TDR/Andy Craggs

Increasing resilience to malaria and Rift Valley Fever in Baringo County, Kenya. In this study, the researchers observed a peak in malaria cases two months before the onset of the rains and one month after a period of sustained temperatures. They also found that people in the community held myths and misconceptions about malaria. A second study on Rift Valley Fever sought to assess factors predisposing local communities to this disease and to develop strategies to improve their resilience. The researchers found that community knowledge about Rift Valley Fever was low, and that community practices were likely to increase exposure to infection.

The malaria brief has 6 recommendations, including improving community knowledge of malaria and providing climactic and environmental data and indigenous climate forecasts for early warning systems. The Rift Valley Fever brief has 5 recommendations, including the establishment by the county veterinary department of sentinel herds of cattle, which are tested routinely and alert authorities to imminent spread of infection in hotspot areas. They also recommend providing community members with information about Rift Valley Fever.

Predicting vulnerability and improving resilience of Maasai communities to African trypanosomiasis in Tanzania. In this project, it was observed that the burden of African trypanosomiasis is expected to increase because of the changing climate and land use changes in the Maasai steppe ecosystem; pastoralist communities are changing their movement patterns because expansion of agriculture in the region limits their options in their search for water and pasture for their livestock. Climate change, especially rising temperatures, is increasing the number of tsetse fly vectors and rates of infection with trypanosomiasis. The researchers also showed that trypanosomiasis, in addition to being a public health issue, exacerbates economic hardships because of loss of livestock or costs needed to control the disease.

Tanzania climate change research
Tanzania climate change research
Credit: WHO/TDR/Andy Craggs

The researchers recommend 6 policies to reduce the public health and economic toll of trypanosomiasis on the Maasai community. These include enhancing the quality and quantity of meteorological data, providing guidance on both human and animal trypanosomiasis to Maasai communities and improving the demarcation of land for pasture, agriculture and protected areas.

Trypanosomiasis in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. A study in Tanzania found that farmers and others living to the west of the Serengeti wildlife areas are not familiar with tsetse and trypanosomiasis, and that people in the community are not involved in control programmes. At the same time, temperature increases in Tanzania are higher than the global average, which could increase tsetse populations. In the lower Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe, the researchers reported increasing contact between tsetse, humans and their livestock. Additionally, they say climate change will likely make this region more suitable for tsetse populations, which could increase the impact of trypanosomiasis.

The Tanzania study produced 10 policy recommendations. These include expanding the use of Restricted Application of Pesticides in livestock, involving communities in vector and disease control and expanding climatological monitoring in western Tanzania. For Zimbabwe, the 9 recommendations include monitoring vector populations and the incidence of human and animal trypanosomiasis, quantifying interactions between trypanosomiasis and other vector-borne diseases and ensuring the continued operation of the Rekomitjie Research Station, which has played a critical role in tsetse research for half a century.

Vulnerability and resilience to malaria and schistosomiasis in Côte d’Ivoire and Mauritania. This project involved two studies in Côte d’Ivoire and one in Mauritania. In Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire, the researchers found a direct relationship between lack of access to clean water and sanitation and schistosomiasis risk in children. In a separate study on malaria, also in Korhogo, they found that Anopheline malaria vectors had begun breeding in atypical urban habitats like drinking water vessels, septic tanks and used tires, especially during the rainy season. In Kaedi, Mauritania, where urinary schistosomiasis is primarily acquired along the banks of the Senegal River, the researchers found an unexpectedly low prevalence of 1% of the infection among children 5-15 years of age, which presents an opportunity for elimination.

Climate change research in Cote d’Ivoire
Climate change research in Cote d’Ivoire
Credit: TDR/WHO/Andy Craggs

The 4 policy recommendations from the Côte d’Ivoire schistosomiasis study include improving access to clean water and sanitation and educating children and adults about the disease. The 4 recommendations arising from the malaria study include focused vector control during the rainy season and improving access to drinking water and sanitation. In Kaedi, Mauritania, the researchers recommend 4 policies that could lead to elimination of schistosomiasis in children. They include measures to halt fresh water snail reproduction in the Senegal River and providing the population with a clean water supply to discourage washing and other domestic activities along the river bank.


For more information, contact:
Jamie Guth
TDR Communications Manager
Telephone: +41 79 441 2289
E-mail: guthj@who.int.

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