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Malaria transmission pattern resilience to climatic variability is mediated by insecticide-treated nets

Luis Fernando Chaves1*, Akira Kaneko23, George Taleo4, Mercedes Pascual1 and Mark L Wilson15

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1048, USA

2 Malaria Research, Unit of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

3 Department of International Affairs and Tropical Medicine, Tokyo Women's Medical University, Tokyo 162-8666, Japan

4 Vanuatu Ministry of Health, Government of the Republic of Vanuatu, Port Vila, Vanuatu

5 Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029, USA

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Malaria Journal 2008, 7:100  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-7-100

Published: 2 June 2008

Abstract

Background

Malaria is an important public-health problem in the archipelago of Vanuatu and climate has been hypothesized as important influence on transmission risk. Beginning in 1988, a major intervention using insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) was implemented in the country in an attempt to reduce Plasmodium transmission. To date, no study has addressed the impact of ITN intervention in Vanuatu, how it may have modified the burden of disease, and whether there were any changes in malaria incidence that might be related to climatic drivers.

Methods and findings

Monthly time series (January 1983 through December 1999) of confirmed Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax infections in the archipelago were analysed. During this 17 year period, malaria dynamics underwent a major regime shift around May 1991, following the introduction of bed nets as a control strategy in the country. By February of 1994 disease incidence from both parasites was reduced by at least 50%, when at most 20% of the population at risk was covered by ITNs. Seasonal cycles, as expected, were strongly correlated with temperature patterns, while inter-annual cycles were associated with changes in precipitation. Following the bed net intervention, the influence of environmental drivers of malaria dynamics was reduced by 30–80% for climatic forces, and 33–54% for other factors. A time lag of about five months was observed for the qualitative change ("regime shift") between the two parasites, the change occurring first for P. falciparum. The latter might be explained by interspecific interactions between the two parasites within the human hosts and their distinct biology, since P. vivax can relapse after a primary infection.

Conclusion

The Vanuatu ITN programme represents an excellent example of implementing an infectious disease control programme. The distribution was undertaken to cover a large, local proportion (~80%) of people in villages where malaria was present. The successful coverage was possible because of the strategy for distribution of ITNs by prioritizing the free distribution to groups with restricted means for their acquisition, making the access to this resource equitable across the population. These results emphasize the need to implement infectious disease control programmes focusing on the most vulnerable populations.