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Agriculture against malaria in the African highlands

Agriculture against malaria in the African highlands


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Almost half of the world's population is at risk of contracting the disease, transmitted to humans by the Aedes aegyptis mosquito. In addition, it is estimated that 214 million people will be infected this year and almost 500,000 will die.

"Malaria is the number one health problem in our country," said Babria Babiler El-Sayed, director of the Sudan Institute for Tropical Medicine Research.

With the help of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that country began to release sterilized male mosquitoes to displace their fertile congeners and thus reduce the population of mosquitoes.

FAO and IAEA used the “nuclear” technique (using low doses of radiation) successfully against the deadly tsetse fly and fruit fly.

Malaria is a new area and both agencies are experimenting in East Africa with the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) for population control of pests.

In addition, it is proven that malaria is a preventable disease, and that it is explicitly mentioned in the third of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be met by 2030.

For that year, one of the goals seeks to "end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases."

The key is not relying on just one method or tool, but integrating the various efforts to control the disease, El-Sayed noted.

That is a change from 1950, when the World Health Organization (WHO) conference in Kampala resolved to support the use of dichlordiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) to eradicate the disease. It was learned through blows that even such a potent chemical cannot solve the problem by itself.

In fact, in the emblematic case of the Tennessee Valley, in the United States, the disappearance of malaria in the 1930s was achieved without the use of chemicals, through a massive campaign against poverty, combined with a vast program of job creation in a central hydroelectric.

Warmer weather raises the flight of insects

Most alarming is the literal rise of malaria into the densely populated highlands of East Africa. Populations in southwestern Uganda and parts of Zambia and Rwanda often lack the genetic resistance to protect them from the disease, which has been developed by farmers in prone areas.

Climate change causes all kinds of variations in the environment. For example, more and more Zambians lose their lives to crocodiles, lions and buffaloes because they are forced to travel older in search of water due to drought. Not to mention the record number of migrants, many of whom do not leave their country, but instead search for new ecosystems.

Added to this is the sustained increase in temperature, which raises the possible habitat of malaria vectors, which "is related to altitude, rather than latitude," according to research by the International Institute for Food Policy Research on the causes of the drastic increase in the incidence of malaria in the highlands of Uganda.

That also poses special risks for elevations above 2,000 meters in Kenya, Ethiopia and Burundi.

Local and integrated strategies

Integrated methods, agricultural techniques, the crops themselves and human practices such as the use of mosquito nets are part of the achievements in the fight against malaria.

With international support, the Zambia Malaria Institute virtually eliminated malaria in the southern districts, largely through a combined effort, according to physician Phil Thuma, a pillar and advocate for what he called "an intense effort ”To fight the epidemic.

FAO has long incorporated the distribution of mosquito nets into its programs, a simple but essential tool.

In fact, currently, a project in Kenya promotes the use of insecticide-treated nets in the sheds where the animals are, and has achieved a pronounced increase in milk production, since both humans and animals are healthier.

Despite criticism that many Zambian fishermen ended up using mosquito nets to improve their catch or that in Uganda they were used to make wedding dresses, the fact is that they are widely used in East Africa and that many people buy another one, confirming its usefulness. , according to a study conducted in Tanzania.

The real problem is that many farmers get up before dawn or stay late, forcing them to leave the shelter during the hours when mosquitoes bite.

Almost everyone has basic knowledge about malaria, but very few have heard of climate change.

Empirical studies clearly show that where cultivation practices reduce vegetation cover, temperatures rise in mosquito breeding areas. In other words, land use and reforestation efforts should be part of the combined policies carried out at the community level.

Farmer field schools, long a priority for FAO, are key to disseminating useful knowledge at the local level.

The development of programs that contemplate the fight against malaria must take this into account, especially in the framework of efforts to increase irrigation infrastructure to improve agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa.

A survey in Ethiopia concluded that the incidence of malaria among boys and girls was seven times higher in villages located three kilometers from a micro-dam for irrigation, than among minors residing eight kilometers away.

Maize cultivation, a huge force in the region, could also raise the incidence of malaria as higher-yielding hybrid varieties pollinate later in the year, helping to fatten mosquito larvae and translate into more adults , bigger and living longer.

IPS Venezuela


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