Letter: Climate change clouds SA's plans to eradicate malaria

Jasson Urbach | 15 Apr 2014
Mail & Guardian
Sarah Wild states "South Africa plans to eradicate malaria inside its borders by 2018, but the changing climate may be one of its greatest obstacles" (Climate change clouds SA's plans to eradicate malaria, April 10 2014). Claims that climate change will increase the spread of malaria are not new and have been made countless times. Repeatedly making the claim, however, does not make it true. There is ample evidence in the peer reviewed scientific literature to refute the simplistic idea that climate change leads to more malaria.

Oxford University scientists Simon Hay and Peter Gething compiled data on the incidence of malaria in 1900 and 2007 and found that despite rising temperatures during the twentieth century, malaria has lost ground. Renowned expert on insect borne diseases Professor Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute has also exposed serious deficits in the thinking behind climate change and the spread of insect borne diseases. Professor Reiter demonstrated that some of the worst malaria epidemics in Europe occurred during the coldest winters of the Little Ice Age, and only began to decline as temperatures warmed. Professor Reiter states, "Future changes in climate may alter the prevalence and incidence of the disease, but obsessive emphasis on "global warming" as a dominant parameter is indefensible; the principal determinants are linked to ecological and societal change, politics and economics".

Continued financial and political support for South Africa's excellent malaria control scientists and public health professionals, and ongoing use of insecticides and effective medicines is the key to ridding the country of malaria. Though it may be fashionable to cry "climate change" in response to any and every challenge, South Africa's public health community and the politicians that appropriate funds for malaria control should not be distracted from the task at hand.

Jasson Urbach, director at Africa Fighting Malaria