Geographies in Depth

How can we win the fight against malaria?

Katy Migiro
East Africa correspondent, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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Future of Global Health and Healthcare

One million Africans will catch malaria this year because they live near a large dam and, at a time of booming dam construction on the continent, greater efforts must be made to protect people from the killer disease, a study in Malaria Journal said.

Almost 80 major new dams are due to be built in sub-Saharan Africa over the next few years, and this will lead to an additional 56,000 malaria cases a year, the study, published on Sept. 4, predicted.

“While dams clearly bring many benefits – contributing to economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security – adverse malaria impacts need to be addressed or they will undermine the sustainability of Africa’s drive for development,” the paper’s lead author, Solomon Kibret of Australia’s University of New England, said in a statement.

The researchers called for measures to control malaria to be included when dams are being planned, such as drying out shorelines at crucial times, issuing bed nets to local people and introducing fish that eat mosquito larvae to dam reservoirs.

It is the first time scientists have measured the impact of dams on malaria across the continent, the researchers said.

Over 15 million Africans live within five kilomatres of dam reservoirs, the scientists found after studying almost 1,300 dams. Two-thirds of the dams were in malaria-prone areas.

Africa is experiencing a surge in dam construction so as to generate electricity, irrigate crops and store water for fast-growing populations.

“Dams are an important option for governments anxious to develop,” another of the paper’s authors, Matthew McCartney of the International Water Management Institute, a research organisation, said.

“But it is unethical that people living close to them pay the price of that development through increased suffering and, possibly in extreme cases, loss of life.”

Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, which breed in stagnant water such as shallow puddles along dam shorelines. It is a major health problem in sub-Saharan Africa, where there are 174 million cases a year.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Katy Migiro reports on humanitarian news, good governance and women’s rights in the Horn of Africa and East Africa.

Image: Malaria tests are seen on a table in the Ta Gay Laung village hall in Hpa-An district in Kayin state, south-eastern Myanmar. REUTERS/Astrid Zweynert 

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