Often the focus of malaria case management and malaria prevention is on children under five years of age and pregnant women. Adults generally can be at higher risk for getting malaria because of their occupations, as was seen in two recent publications.
The Asian Scientist reporting on Bangladesh explained that “Slash-and-burn farmers … are exposed to a higher risk of malaria infection.” The report notes that not only are woodcutters and jhum (slash-and-burn) cultivators at increased risk of being infected by malaria and but they are also endangering their families.
The researchers at the Centre for Vaccine Sciences and the Centre for Population, Urbanisation and Climate Change of the icddr,b, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, Baltimore, reported that “jhum cultivators and people living with them had 1.6 times higher odds of being infected with malaria than non-jhum cultivators.”
The study also appeared in the American Journal of tropical Medicine and Hygiene where the authors observed that “Possible mechanisms cited in the study for the observed higher malaria incidence among jhum cultivators include increased exposure to mosquitoes, sleeping away from home unprotected by bed nets and lack of access to health services.”
Gold mining is another ‘vulnerable occupation, according to a study in Venezuela. Daniel Pardo of BBC News posted photographs that show how mining creates water-filled pits as breeding sites and also the substandard living quarters of the miners where mosquitoes have easy access to victims.
According to the BBC, “Venezuela used to be a world leader in managing malaria, but is now the only country in Latin America where incidence of the disease is increasing. Around 75,000 people were infected last year, and according to government figures, 60% of cases were in Sifontes, a tiny region of the country where gold mining – where workers drill for gold in mosquito-friendly standing water – is booming, and healthcare is scarce. “
These two experiences challenge our ideas of focusing control on only certain groups who are perceived as vulnerable. If we are to eliminate malaria, we need to identify all at risk populations, especially those in rural and hard to reach areas like miners and farmers.
This situation also tells us that much of the occupational risk of malaria is created by humans who overlook health costs in the economic calculations about their work. Clearly we cannot eliminate malaria without collaboration among the health and economic sectors in an effort to promote the overall welfare of populations.