Population Density, Climate Variables and Poverty Synergistically Structure Spatial Risk in Urban Malaria in India

Citation: Santos-Vega M, Bouma MJ, Kohli V, Pascual M (2016) Population Density, Climate Variables and Poverty Synergistically Structure Spatial Risk in Urban Malaria in India. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 10(12): e0005155. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0005155
Published: December 1, 2016

Background: The world is rapidly becoming urban with the global population living in cities projected to double by 2050. This increase in urbanization poses new challenges for the spread and control of communicable diseases such as malaria. In particular, urban environments create highly heterogeneous socio-economic and environmental conditions that can affect the transmission of vector-borne diseases dependent on human water storage and waste water management. Interestingly India, as opposed to Africa, harbors a mosquito vector, Anopheles stephensi, which thrives in the man-made environments of cities and acts as the vector for both Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum, making the malaria problem a truly urban phenomenon. Here we address the role and determinants of within-city spatial heterogeneity in the incidence patterns of vivax malaria, and then draw comparisons with results for falciparum malaria.
Methodology/principal findings: Statistical analyses and a phenomenological transmission model are applied to an extensive spatio-temporal dataset on cases of Plasmodium vivax in the city of Ahmedabad (Gujarat, India) that spans 12 years monthly at the level of wards. A spatial pattern in malaria incidence is described that is largely stationary in time for this parasite. Malaria risk is then shown to be associated with socioeconomic indicators and environmental parameters, temperature and humidity. In a more dynamical perspective, an Inhomogeneous Markov Chain Model is used to predict vivax malaria risk. Models that account for climate factors, socioeconomic level and population size show the highest predictive skill. A comparison to the transmission dynamics of falciparum malaria reinforces the conclusion that the spatio-temporal patterns of risk are strongly driven by extrinsic factors.
Conclusion/significance: Climate forcing and socio-economic heterogeneity act synergistically at local scales on the population dynamics of urban malaria in this city. The stationarity of malaria risk patterns provides a basis for more targeted intervention, such as vector control, based on transmission ‘hotspots’. This is especially relevant for P. vivax, a more resilient parasite than P. falciparum, due to its ability to relapse and the operational shortcomings of delivering a “radical cure”.

Author Summary: Urbanization and environmental change are the main driving forces of ecological and social change around the globe, specifically in developing countries and for human health. Cities in developing countries exhibit rapid and unplanned urbanization which creates heterogeneous environmental and socio-economic conditions, which can in turn lead to different risks of infection. Here we address the role of urban spatial heterogeneity in infection risk by Plasmodium vivax with an extensive surveillance data set from Ahmedabad, India, spanning 12 years. This parasite is one of the four malaria species in humans, and is today the dominant cause of malaria in Indian cities. Our results show clear spatial structure in malaria incidence within the city, dependent on wealth, population density and the climate (temperature and humidity). Because this pattern of spatial risk is largely stationary in time, it can be incorporated in a prediction model and it identifies target ‘hotspots’ for intervention. Similar conclusions apply to the reported cases of Plasmodium falciparum which reinforces the importance of spatial heterogeneity in urban malaria more generally.


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