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World Health Organization scoping review calls for urgent action to tackle the impact of climate change on malaria and neglected tropical diseases

23 May 2024

The World Health Organization Task Team on Climate Change, in partnership with Reaching the Last Mile, has launched a critical review exploring the effects of climate change on malaria and 20 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and the potential impact of mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

World Health Organization scoping review calls for urgent action to tackle the impact of climate change on malaria and neglected tropical diseases

Published in the Transactions of The Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, this unprecedented scoping review uncovers significant gaps in evidence and understanding of the actual and potential impact of climate change on malaria and NTDs. The review, led by Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, comes at a critical time, with much of the progress made against malaria and NTDs at risk if future climatic changes render previously effective interventions ineffective.  

Rising temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns are altering vector breeding habitats and pathogen development, changing the geographical distribution of many diseases. The review proposes several key recommendations to guide future research, emphasising standardisation and collaboration in modelling efforts as most critical, given that the overall impact of climate change on these diseases cannot be confidently predicted with currently available analyses. 

Malaria Consortium in collaboration with Uganda Virus Research Institute and other partners is working in Uganda on the FORECAST project — Forecasting outbreak risks from extreme climate with active surveillance technology — to improve early warning of outbreaks of malaria and arboviral diseases, which stem from the intricate effects of climate and extreme weather on disease transmission.  

Dr Tarekegn Abeku, Malaria Consortium’s Principal Advisor and co-principal investigator of FORECAST explains, “The effects of mosquito-borne disease outbreaks due to extreme climatic events are compounded by factors such as population immunity, human and livestock mobility, and ecological changes. The challenge is made even more complex by the limitations of surveillance systems and the scarcity of diagnostic tools, leading to delayed outbreak detection and response. There is an urgent need for global action and investment in building resilient health systems. By enhancing outbreak preparedness, we can better protect communities from the escalating climate health risks.”  

The scoping review spotlights the importance of modelling, based on multiple, clearly defined scenarios across multiple geographies, emphasising that modelling efforts must not ignore populations where diseases are currently endemic. It also emphasises a greater research focus on mitigation and adaptation strategies to safeguard progress made against malaria and NTDs. Since existing studies do not adequately focus on areas where adaptation strategies are most needed, future research — driven by local scientists in countries most vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate — should prioritise geographies where disease burdens are highest and communities are disproportionately affected. Women, children, older people, and marginalised and migrant communities contribute least to climate change, and yet are most likely to feel its impacts.  

The review concludes that integrating climate resilience into health systems is critical. This will be achieved through investing in health infrastructure, fostering cross-sector collaboration, and accelerating research and development by local scientists to address knowledge gaps, which have historically led to a lack of advocacy and therefore funding for some diseases.  

Craig Bonnington, Malaria Consortium’s Senior Technical Advisor, commented, “The increasing impact of climate change on malaria and NTDs clearly threatens to undermine the hard-earned progress of past decades. Immediate engagement is essential to sustain effective disease control commensurate with the affected communities' needs, today and in the future.” 

To safeguard and build on global health gains, the global health community must continue to work in tandem with affected communities, and across sectors and disciplines to predict, prepare for and respond to evolving epidemiological patterns, ensuring the resilience of health systems and communities.  

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FORECAST: Forecasting outbreak risks from extreme climate with active surveillance technology

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