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Climate Change's Impact on NTDs and Malaria Needs Acute Research: WHO

A comprehensive WHO and RLM review reveal significant gaps in understanding how climate change impacts malaria and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), highlighting the urgent need for targeted research and action.

Saurabh Shukla
Climate Change's Impact on NTDs and Malaria Needs Acute Research: WHO (Photo Source: Pixabay)
Climate Change's Impact on NTDs and Malaria Needs Acute Research: WHO (Photo Source: Pixabay)

The World Health Organization (WHO) Task Team on Climate Change, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), and Malaria, in collaboration with Reaching the Last Mile (RLM), has published a comprehensive scoping review in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The review, which analyzed 42,693 articles, indicates that the impacts of human-induced climate changes on malaria and NTDs are not yet fully understood.

The study underscores the effects of rising temperatures and shifting weather patterns on the distribution of vector-borne diseases, which pose significant health challenges and add pressure to healthcare systems. As disease vectors like mosquitoes expand their geographical range, the risk of introducing diseases to new, unprepared regions increases. The review suggests that these changes in the prevalence, incidence, range, and intensity of malaria and various NTDs will particularly affect communities already burdened by these diseases. 

Dr. Ibrahima Socé Fall, Director of WHO’s Global NTD Programme, who led the study, emphasized the need for more comprehensive and standardized models to better predict climate change's effects on malaria and NTDs. "The findings presented in this major review highlight the need for more comprehensive, collaborative, and standardized modeling so that we can better understand and predict the effects of climate change on malaria and NTDs, both directly and indirectly," said Dr. Fall. He warned of alarming trends, noting that malaria transmission could shift to higher altitudes and towards the poles, while the range of the mosquito vector responsible for dengue and chikungunya is predicted to expand. Dr. Fall called for urgent action to protect and build on the gains made in combating these diseases over the past two decades.

The review highlights a concerning trend in published research, which has predominantly focused on countries with low disease burdens and high access to quality healthcare (HAQI). This focus neglects the communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change on malaria and NTDs. The review identified a gap in studies addressing mitigation (34%) and adaptation strategies (5%), signaling a need for more research to protect the advancements made in recent decades.

The scoping review analyzed peer-reviewed papers and grey literature from January 2010 to October 2023. Researchers reviewed 1,543 full-text papers from the 42,693 records retrieved, correlating publication numbers with national disease burdens, HAQI, and climate vulnerability scores. Of the 511 papers that met the inclusion criteria, 185 addressed malaria, 181 focused on dengue and chikungunya, and 53 reported on leishmaniasis. Other NTDs were significantly under-represented, indicating a need for further study.

The findings of this review highlight the urgent need for targeted research and action to address the complex relationship between climate change and the spread of malaria and NTDs, particularly in underserved communities.

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