Preventing malaria and schistosomiasis due to climate change in Cote d’Ivoire

TDR news item
10 December 2015

Climate changes are making Cote d’Ivoire more vulnerable to malaria and schistosomiasis. New research is finding community-based solutions by merging the studies of mosquitoes, water, temperatures, land management and social sciences.

The west African country of Cote d’Ivoire, with both sea coast and inlands, has a rich heritage. However, changes in climate are making it more vulnerable to diseases like malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, and schistosomiasis that comes from parasitic worms. Dr Marie-Josephe Bitty, Director of Hygiene, Environment and Health, says that malaria, the biggest cause of death, has an incidence of more than 30% in this country.

Professor Abdourahamane Konare of the Université Félix Houphouet Boigny, says, “I think the main issue we are facing here in Africa is that the environmental changes seem to become more rapid, and so the capacity of the countries, the people, to adapt to that change is one of the biggest issues.

One research project underway could have a big impact. Coordinated by TDR, with support from Canada’s International Development Research Centre, scientists in Cote d’Ivoire and Mauritania are taking a multi-dimensional look at the problem.

They’re counting the numbers of mosquitos and snails, measuring the lower water levels and quality, the changing temperatures, and how waste is managed.

Professor Konare says the amount of rainfall is about the same, but what is changing is the variability, which is already being felt by those living here. Truck drivers have less work because the corn, potatoes and other vegetables they transport aren’t growing as well.

Water levels in the community gardens are down so women have to work much harder for fewer results.

The research is bringing together community members with the scientists to review the data being collected and come up with potential solutions. Lead investigator Dr Brama Kone from the Swiss Center for Scientific Research in Abidjan and the University Peleforo Gon Coulibaly of Korhogo says, “If we want to come out with change for our communities, we need to understand how the communities themselves perceive the disease; how they understand the disease causes. And for that we need social scientists and social anthropologists.”

Community focus groups are led by social scientists to better understand perceptions, and to work with them to develop solutions. Amoin Jeanne d’Arc Koffi from the Universite Alassane Ouattara provides one example: “They say mosquito nets help me when I am in the house, but when I am outside the house how do I protect myself? And they do spend more time outside the house than under the mosquito net.”

With understanding on how mosquitos breed in standing water, the women in this focus group have asked for more help in how to reduce their family’s risk of being bitten and getting malaria. These preventive aspects will be even more important in the future, because the research team is finding that climate change may increase the risk of these diseases.

Kouassi Richard M’bra from the Universite Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan says that their data anticipate an increase in rainfall in the coming years that will help mosquitoes thrive, and rising temperatures that will also increase the incidence of schistosomiasis.

Results from this study will be finalized at the end of 2016, along with projects in 6 other countries in the Sahel and sub Saharan Africa that look at additional diseases like sleeping sickness. By working closely with the communities, the studies offer a new model of approaching the complicated climate change issues that touch on water, temperature, sanitation, behaviour and disease.

Dr Bitty says, “Bettering the environment is something that is possible for populations, and this has the potential to create resilience to this disease.”

For more information, contact Bernadette Ramirez

Photo credit: WHO/TDR/ Andy Craggs

Watch a video about this project

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