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Coupling between annual and ENSO timescales in the malaria-climate association in Colombia

Poveda, Germán; Rojas, William; Quiñones, Martha L.; Vélez, Iván D.; Mantilla, R. I.; Ruiz Carrascal, Carlos Daniel; Zuluaga, Juan S.; Rúa, Guillermo L.

We present evidence that the El Niño phenomenon intensifies the annual cycle of malaria cases for Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum in endemic areas of Colombia as a consequence of concomitant anomalies in the normal annual cycle of temperature and precipitation. We used simultaneous analyses of both variables at both timescales, as well as correlation and power spectral analyses of detailed spatial (municipal) and temporal (monthly) records. During "normal years," endemic malaria in rural Colombia exhibits a clear-cut "normal" annual cycle, which is tightly associated with prevalent climatic conditions, mainly mean temperature, precipitation, dew point, and river discharges. During historical El Niño events (interannual time scale), the timing of malaria outbreaks does not change from the annual cycle, but the number of cases intensifies. Such anomalies are associated with a consistent pattern of hydrological and climatic anomalies: increase in mean temperature, decrease in precipitation, increase in dew point, and decrease in river discharges, all of which favor malaria transmission. Such coupling explains why the effect appears stronger and more persistent during the second half of El Niño's year (0), and during the first half of the year (+1). We illustrate this finding with data for diverse localities in Buenaventura (on the Pacific coast) and Caucasia (along the Cauca river floodplain), but conclusions have been found valid for multiple localities throughout endemic regions of Colombia. The identified coupling between annual and interannual timescales in the climate-malaria system shed new light toward understanding the exact linkages between environmental, entomological, and epidemiological factors conductive to malaria outbreaks, and also imposes the coupling of those timescales in public health intervention programs.


Also Published In

Environmental Health Perspectives

More About This Work

Academic Units
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
Published Here
November 23, 2020