KENYA— The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified Kenya as one of the ten countries habouring a new mosquito vector, Anopheles stephensi, linked to climate change.
Malaria is a major public health problem in Kenya, where it is endemic in several parts of the country and threatens about 70% of the population.
Malaria affects people of all ages and is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among pregnant women and children under the age of five.
Malaria is spread by two primary mosquitoes in Kenya: Anopheles gambiae and Anopheles funestus.
However, unlike the other major malaria mosquito vectors, Anopheles stephensi is a mosquito that can transmit Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax malaria parasites and thrives in urban and man-made environments.
Originally widespread in South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, A. stephensi is currently found in seven African countries.
The mosquito species has been expanding its geographic range over the last decade, with detections reported in Djibouti (2012), Ethiopia and Sudan (2016), Somalia (2019), and Nigeria (2020).
This crucial discovery was reported in the 2023 World Malaria Report, and it is the first time climate change has been expressly addressed in the context of malaria transmission.
Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes prefer water storage containers and are widespread throughout the Horn of Africa.
While malaria has historically been a rural illness in Africa, transmission may increase in urban settings where populations of A. stephensi have grown.
According to the most recent data, there has been a significant increase in malaria cases globally when compared to past years, with a startling 16 million more people developing new malaria infections. The research estimates 249 million malaria cases in 2022 alone.
Furthermore, Kenyan scientists discovered the novel mosquito vector earlier this year, namely in Marsabit County.
The vector’s difficult management in comparison to existing ones is concerning, leading to its subsequent expansion to neighbouring Mandera County.
Anopheles stephensi has a remarkable ability to adapt to local settings, surviving even exceptionally high temperatures during the dry season, when malaria transmission often hits a seasonal low.
This information, revealed during COP28, emphasizes the need to tackle the threat posed by this new species in Kenya and abroad.
The report delivers a strong warning about the possible consequences of this new species’ proliferation, emphasizing its threat to malaria management and elimination across Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and southern Asia.
It implies that, in the absence of effective control measures, the vector’s spread across Africa, along with rapid and poorly planned urbanization, may increase the danger of malaria transmission in African cities.
In response, the WHO is urging countries to boost their monitoring efforts and precisely map the geographic distribution of Anopheles stephensi, utilizing data to guide and implement interventions.
This study emphasizes the need to understand the direct consequences of climate change on malaria, such as potential geographical expansions and changes in transmission intensity.
The Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stressed the importance of sustainable and resilient malaria solutions, encouraging governments to take immediate action to minimize the effects of global warming.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, emphasized the importance of innovative and collaborative malaria-eradication measures in light of different constraints such as restricted healthcare access, wars, and the lingering consequences of COVID-19.
Despite the new mosquito vector’s hurdles, Mr. Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More, emphasized on using ongoing solutions, such as seasonal malaria chemoprevention, which has shown a 75% reduction in incidence among children who get it.
This breakthrough, which costs around Sh250 (US$1.63) , is already available to approximately 49 million children in the Sahel region and West Africa, with hopes of expanding to East Africa.
In light of the climate catastrophe, the report finishes by highlighting the vital need for funding in malaria research.
It encourages research into how climatic changes and climate change affect malaria response and emphasizes the necessity of effectively communicating these concerns to policymakers, donors, and the general population.
Furthermore, the research suggests a collaborative effort by industrialized countries to mobilize and operationalize the Green Climate Fund, with a specific focus on malaria as part of mitigation funding measures.
It also emphasizes the importance of engineering future healthcare goods to be more sustainable in light of the altered operating environment caused by climate change.
Future products should be heat-stable, suitable for displaced populations, and environmentally conscious, with a focus on biodegradability and local manufacture.