, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 29 – A group of scientists in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have devised a new way of predicting malaria epidemics three months before they occur.
Lead Scientist Dr Andrew Githeko said on Thursday that the new technology uses computations of climate data to look for conditions that could hasten the breeding of mosquitoes.
“The model is able to identify the threat very early and gives you two to three months’ warning before the actual event happens,” Dr Githeko said.
“This gives you enough time to prepare, intervene and reduce the impact of this threat so it’s like an intelligence system whereby you know there is a threat coming and you use that intelligence to act to prevent the impact,” he added.
He said the model had been tested for the last two years in Western Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and had proven to have a very high predictive power and consistency.
Dr Githeko called on the government to take up the new technology to prevent severe impacts of malaria in the country.
“During epidemics, we used to have malaria cases increase at between 100 and 500 percent. We estimate that if you intervene in time, you can actually prevent this from going up to 500 percent,” he said.
He said this model would enhance other government efforts like indoor residual spraying which would be done in the right areas and at the right time.
“In the current system they (government) are using, they discover there is an epidemic during the epidemic because what they do is to count the number of malaria cases but by the time you see the numbers increasing, it’s already in the epidemic!”
He said the model had been selected by the UN climate change framework’s adaptation policy as example of practical adaptation to climate change and was documented in the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change report.
The Acting Director of Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Dr Solomon Mpoke said climate change was responsible for the changing disease pattern in Kenya.
“Malaria is now being experienced in Central Kenya in areas like Nyeri and Murang’a where it was not occurring before. Climate change is making the environment conducive for the growth of malaria vectors,” Dr Mpoke said.
He said the current methods for epidemic detection did not give ample time for prevention and control.
Government statistics indicate that although malaria cases had dropped significantly in the last four years, the disease continued to kill 34,000 children in Kenya annually.
It is estimated that about 3.7 million Kenyans are at risk of malaria infection annually and the government recommends use of insecticide treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria infection.