To what extent does climate explain variations in reported malaria cases in early 20th century Uganda?

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Adrian M. Tompkins *
Laragh Larsen
Nicky McCreesh
David Taylor
(*) Corresponding Author:
Adrian M. Tompkins | tompkins@ictp.it

Abstract

Malaria case statistics were analysed for the period 1926 to 1960 to identify inter-annual variations in malaria cases for the Uganda Protectorate. The analysis shows the mid-to-late 1930s to be a period of increased reported cases. After World War II, malaria cases trend down to a relative minimum in the early 1950s, before increasing rapidly after 1953 to the end of the decade. Data for the Western Province confirm these national trends, which at the time were attributed to a wide range of causes, including land development and management schemes, population mobility, interventions and misdiagnosis. Climate was occasionally proposed as a contributor to enhanced case numbers, and unusual precipitation patterns were held responsible; temperature was rarely, if ever, considered. In this study, a dynamical malaria model was driven with available precipitation and temperature data from the period for five stations located across a range of environments in Uganda. In line with the historical data, the simulations produced relatively enhanced transmission in the 1930s, although there is considerable variability between locations. In all locations, malaria transmission was low in the late 1940s and early 1950s, steeply increasing after 1954. Results indicate that past climate variability explains some of the variations in numbers of reported malaria cases. The impact of multiannual variability in temperature, while only on the order of 0.5°C, was sufficient to drive some of the trends observed in the statistics and thus the role of climate was likely underestimated in the contemporary reports. As the elimination campaigns of the 1960s followed this partly climate-driven increase in malaria, this emphasises the need to account for climate when planning and evaluating intervention strategies.

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