Severe Flooding and Malaria Transmission in the Western Ugandan Highlands: Implications for Disease Control in an Era of Global Climate Change

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Abstract

Background. There are several mechanisms by which global climate change may impact malaria transmission. We sought to assess how the increased frequency of extreme precipitation events associated with global climate change will influence malaria transmission in highland areas of East Africa.

Methods. We used a differences-in-differences, quasi-experimental design to examine spatial variability in the incidence rate of laboratory-confirmed malaria cases and malaria-related hospitalizations between villages (1) at high versus low elevations, (2) with versus without rivers, and (3) upstream versus downstream before and after severe flooding that occurred in Kasese District, Western Region, Uganda, in May 2013.

Results. During the study period, 7596 diagnostic tests were performed, and 1285 patients were admitted with a diagnosis of malaria. We observed that extreme flooding resulted in an increase of approximately 30% in the risk of an individual having a positive result of a malaria diagnostic test in the postflood period in villages bordering a flood-affected river, compared with villages farther from a river, with a larger relative impact on upstream versus downstream villages (adjusted rate ratio, 1.91 vs 1.33).

Conclusions. Extreme precipitation such as the flooding described here may pose significant challenges to malaria control programs and will demand timely responses to mitigate deleterious impacts on human health.

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