Malaria Can Be Controlled Despite Rising Temperatures

May 20, 2010 | Peter Nelson

Global warming will not cause malaria to spread or intensify. Instead, malaria will continue to retreat, unless current control efforts are suddenly abandoned, according to a paper published today in Nature.

While there are legitimate health concerns associated with a warming world, the fear shared by some scientists and policy makers that rising temperatures would increase malaria’s impact goes against the trends observed during the last century.

A team of scientists including David L. Smith, researcher with the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy at Resources for the Future analyzed the change in the geographic range of the disease over time and noted a general reduction in the intensity of malaria and its elimination in several parts of the world despite a century of warming. Such trends suggest that malaria will not suddenly start to expand with further warming.

Current malaria control efforts such as insecticide-treated bed nets, and new anti-malarial drugs, have proved remarkably effective, and are likely to counteract the much smaller malaria-spreading effects from anticipated temperature increases, Smith said.

According to Simon Hay, an author of the Nature paper, “Malaria remains a huge public health problem, and the international community has an unprecedented opportunity to relieve this burden with existing interventions. Any failure in meeting this challenge will be very difficult to attribute to climate change.”

This research was conducted by the Malaria Atlas Project, a multinational collaboration principally funded by the Wellcome Trust.