On World Population Day (July 11) one often thinks of family planning. A wider view was proposed by resolution 45/216 of December 1990, of the United Nations General Assembly which encouraged observance of “World Population Day to enhance awareness of population issues, including their relations to the environment and development.”
A relationship still exists between family planning and malaria via preventing pregnancies in malaria endemic areas where the disease leads to anemia, death, low birth weight and stillbirth. Other population issues such as migration/mobility, border movement, and conflict/displacement influence exposure of populations to malaria, NTDs and their risks. Environmental concerns such as land/forest degradation, occupational exposure, population expansion (even into areas where populations of monkeys, bats or other sources of zoonotic disease transmission live), and climate warming in areas without prior malaria transmission expose more populations to mosquitoes and malaria.
Ultimately the goal of eliminating malaria needs a population based focus. The recent WHO malaria elimination strategic guidance encourages examination of factors in defined population units that influence transmission or control.
Today public health advocates are using the term population health more. The University of Wisconsin Department of Population Health Sciences in its blog explained that “Population health is defined as the health outcomes of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” World Population Day is a good time to consider how the transmission or prevention of malaria, or even neglected tropical diseases, is distributed in our countries, and which groups and communities within that population are most vulnerable.
World Population Day has room to consider many issues related to the health of populations whether it be reproductive health, communicable diseases or chronic diseases as well as the services to address these concerns.
The Earth Day website notes that, “Our planet is currently losing over 15 billion trees each year—that’s 56 acres of forest every minute. We’re working hard to reverse that trend by supporting global reforestation projects. Earth Day Network’s Reforestation Campaign benefits local communities, increases habitat for species, and combats climate change.”
This habitat change if often conducive to the spread of malaria in areas and among populations that may not have been affected before. Specifically, “More risks associated with El Niño are: flooding and landslides in the Americas, drought in Southeast Asia and Australia, scrambled fisheries, and malaria, cholera, and dengue outbreaks.”
Terry Devitt reported that the incidence of malaria jumps when Amazon forests are cut, establishing a firm link between environmental change and human disease. The report, which combines detailed information on the incidence of malaria in 54 Brazilian health districts and high-resolution satellite imagery of the extent of logging in the Amazon forest, shows that clearing tropical forest landscapes boosts the incidence of malaria by nearly 50 percent (according to Olson and colleagues).
Moyes et al. Predicted the geographical distributions of the macaque hosts and mosquito vectors of Plasmodium knowlesi malaria in forested and non-forested areas of Southeast Asia. When urbanization and deforestation bring people into habitats they never lived in, zoonotic transmission of malaria results. Fornace et al. similarly observed that, “Marked spatial heterogeneity in P. knowlesi incidence was observed, and village-level numbers of P. knowlesi cases were positively associated with forest cover and historical forest loss in surrounding areas. These results suggest the likelihood that deforestation and associated environmental changes are key drivers in P. knowlesi transmission in these areas” of Malaysia.
Back to Brazil, de Alvarenga and co-researchers reported in the transmission of Plasmodium simian malaria in the Brazilian Atlantic forest as a natural infection of capuchin monkeys (Cebinae subfamily). Because of human movement into forest areas, cases among people have now been documented.
The zoonotic transmission of malaria to humans due to changes in climate, environment and habitat pose another unwanted challenge to global efforts to eliminate malaria. On Earth Day it is imperative for malaria control and elimination workers to collaborate closely with colleagues in environmental health and protection.