Malaria could soon return to Europe because of climate change

The communities around the gold-mining town of Obuasi have had to be fumigated for the first time.

Ghana’s rainy season was late and the soaring temperatures provided the perfect breeding conditions for mosquitoes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that climate change will see a devastating increase in malaria deaths.

And countries that have eradicated the disease could see a deadly return, including parts of Europe.

Progress against malaria has stalled in recent years and there are fears changing weather patterns will hamper that fight even more.

Samuel Asiedu is the programme director at AGAMal, an NGO that is now having to spray insecticide inside and outside homes to try to rid Obuasi of malarial mosquitoes.

He said: ‘We were expecting the rains to come much earlier so the temperature would have reduced.

‘It has now become the right environment for the mosquito and we are seeing a lot around.

‘We are now trying to fumigate the townships to bring the mosquito population down but it is a temporary measure.

‘We are having to add an extra stage of protection and that’s more costs.

‘Who will pay for it?’

Fumigation has costed $25,000 (£20,000) so far but the average salary in Ghana is less than $2 a day.

For charities, every cent counts.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquitoes and even in mild cases it can cause high fever, chills, flu-like symptoms, nausea and severe anaemia.

WHO recorded 228 million malaria episodes and 405,000 premature deaths last year worldwide, mainly children under the age of five.

Death rates have plateaued in recent years and mosquitoes are becoming increasingly resistant to insecticides.

Funding is also increasingly scarce: In 2018 $2.7 billion (£2.13bn) was spent by governments fighting the disease – a far cry from the $5 billion (£3.94bn) WHO said is needed.

Mr Asiedu added: ‘Resistance to the insecticides and a funding – or lack of – are real threats.

‘Malaria elimination is hard work and it needs a lot of resources. We have always had limited resources.

‘So climate change is a real concern with regards to how we eliminate malaria.’

WHO has identified malaria as one of the most climate-sensitive disease and predicted at least another 60,000 deaths by 2050.

Warmer temperatures mean mosquitoes take blood meals from humans more frequently.

And increased rainfall creates more stagnant water sources for them to breed in.

WHO recently certified Paraguay, Uzbekistan, Algeria and Argentina as having successfully eliminated malaria.

China, El Salvador, Iran and Malaysia are on the verge of eradication but a rise in temperature by just two degrees Celsius could see it return.

Two years ago Italy – which was declared malaria-free in 1970 – had a number of cases in people who had not travelled abroad.

And there have been a number of cases of mosquito-transmitted dengue fever in recent years in France and Spain.

Head of the department of disease control at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, James Logan, said: ‘Climate change is definitely a contributing factor.

‘We are seeing mosquito populations move and change and that is likely to bring more malaria.

‘There is evidence that this has already started to happen. It’s not just malaria but other vector-borne diseases, such as dengue, which is now in Europe and we are also seeing in the UK.’

The UK eliminated malaria after World War Two when a lot of the marshes were turned into land for agriculture.

Mosquitoes remain and Prof Logan added: ‘Some places in the UK are warm enough in summer to sustain a potential malaria outbreak.

‘We have to be very aware of the potential. But really, it’s low-income countries that we need to be more concerned about where the healthcare is not as good.

‘We need a huge injection of funding and innovation to develop methods to control malaria better.’

He continued: ‘And then Covid-19 comes along and you have a huge but potent distraction.’

There are already a handful of cases in Obuasi and Mr Asiedu has had to stop the insecticide spraying programmes.

He said: ‘The impact of Covid-19 on malaria will be enormous.’

CEO of charity Malaria No More UK, James Whiting, said that coronavirus was currently testing the resilience of even the most robust health systems across the world and could exact a ‘heavy toll’ in places that did not have good infrastructure.

He added: ‘To ensure millions of the most vulnerable are protected, we need to sustain malaria prevention and ensure greater investment in building and supporting resilient health and surveillance systems.

‘This will not only protect and advance progress against existing infectious disease, like malaria, but also ensure we are prepared to effectively address new outbreaks like Covid-19.’