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Link between malaria 'headache' and climate crisis

 A business man overwhelmed by stress and headache. [Getty Images]

A common question doctors ask when you display some symptoms such as fever is whether you have recently travelled to malaria hot spots.

Different countries' efforts, combined with help from non-profit organisations have helped reduce cases of malaria, and resultant deaths. In Kenya, statistics show that 2011 (at 11.12 million cases) and 2018 (with 10.88 million) were the years the disease hit worst between 2010 and 2020.

Interventions have included free distribution of mosquito nets, spraying, minimising potential breeding places such as stagnant water and awareness creation. Malaria deaths have significantly been brought under control.

Yet mosquitoes become cleverer, with such suggestions that they no longer wait for you in the bedroom, but start work earlier, before dark. Some mosquitoes have become resistant to some insecticides, beside several other behaviour changes. Experts say temperatures between 22 degrees Celsius and 34 degrees Celsius are conducive for development of a mosquito larva to a fully functional adult that can spread malaria. But there are also suggestions the insects rest in cooler areas, where they would seldom venture before.

The earth has been warming gradually as a result of human action involving use of fossil fuels to industrialise. Models show increased warming in future, despite efforts and pledges by nations and corporates to try to tame it and reduce disasters. The global warming has not only endangered or pushed certain animal and plant species to extinction, but also caused many to move to newer ground. They include malaria transmitting mosquitoes.

If a recent study published in 'Biology Letters' is anything to go by, mosquitoes are venturing in more environments. The study, from analysis of data between 1898 to 2016, shows that malaria transmitting mosquitoes have moved an average 4.7km farther from the Equator in the last 100 years alone.

Other studies have also attempted to link malarial spread to changes in temperatures. For instance, "The relationship between rising temperatures and malaria incidence in Hainan, China, from 1984 to 2010: a longitudinal cohort study", published in the 'Science Direct', established links between climate conditions and malaria transmission in different altitudes. While researchers dig deeper to establish link between climate change and malaria, this is what the future may just look like.

It may mean more populations that have historically not been prepared to handle malaria becoming more vulnerable. It may mean more resources set aside for research, awareness creation, expansion of health facilities and prevention of the disease's spread. The disease's spread to unexpected newer ground may also hinder its elimination. What is for sure, however, is that as the earth becomes warmer, in some places, more mosquitoes are born because it happens faster. If the mosquitoes breed faster, they will need new ground, and may move to areas where they were not seen. More people (and maybe birds and some animals) will be exposed to mosquito bites. The more the bitten, the higher the supplies for mosquitoes transmitting malaria. More mothers will risk spreading diseases during child birth.

Some outlined mosquito behaviours in recent studies are adequate cause for worry, and should necessitate climate action, as this ceases to be a health-alone problem. Even if for prevention purposes alone, and while the disease is dealt with, efforts to tame global warming must be boosted. If the initial findings in the studies hold, then the worst effects of climate change may cease to be calamities such as drought and floods alone. Diseases will be next big climate change emergency.

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