Climate change: Extreme weather drives surge in malaria cases in Yaounde

By Joyce Diana Ngwang, Guest Writer

The prevalence of malaria in the nation’s capital, Yaounde, has increased by well over 20% between November 2023 and January 2024 with experts attributing the surge to climate change. The increase in the mosquito-borne disease follows a new wave of the vector that has overwhelmed some Yaounde neighbourhoods following changes in weather conditions and human activities that encourage breeding of mosquitoes.

Warmer temperatures alter the growth cycle of the parasite in the mosquito enabling it to develop faster, increasing transmission and thus having implications on the burden of disease, experts say.

Malaria is transmitted to humans by female anopheles mosquitoes

With the changing weather characterized by heatwaves, natural habitats of mosquitoes, such as stagnant waters dry off, forcing the flying insects to find refuge in houses that are warmer, according to Dr Atia Hervé, a medical doctor and General Practitioner at Policlinique Dema in Yaounde.

“Rising temperatures allow mosquitoes to grow faster and live longer. Whereas before they would die out quicker when exposed. Now they have a chance at surviving and more time to build up their populations. Heat also speeds up the time it takes for a parasite or virus to mature inside a mosquito,” Dr Atia explained.

The medic also opines that during hotter seasons as it is the case in Yaounde and other parts of the country currently, people are less clothed due to severe heat waves, hence the multiplication of bites. “When it’s hotter, more people tend to be outside in the morning and late in the evenings – prime time for mosquitoes,” he says.

In its 2023 World malaria report, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says changing climate poses a substantial risk to progress against malaria, particularly in vulnerable regions – including Cameroon.

The National Observatory on Climate Change, (NOCC), recently warned that Cameroon will experience it hottest dry season with heatwaves exceeding historical averages and posing risks to agriculture, health and safety.

Cameroon is home to approximately 77 mosquito species according to open access, peer-reviewed online journal, Parasites & Vectors. Many of the species are harmless, it says. However, there are about a dozen which can pass on diseases to humans, amongst which the Female Anopheles mosquito, known to have considerably increased in the last three years.

In the meantime, Yaounde city dwellers have been devising coping measures following increase in mosquitoes. Some have resulted to the treated nets while others have chosen insecticides to fight against the flying insects.

Sidony Mendjo, an Albino, tells of how easily mosquito bites stick to her delicate skin. To fight this, she closes her windows and doors as early as 6pm daily. She says she and her son sleep under a treated mosquito net, but also wear mosquito repellents and getting rid of any stagnant water from places like flowerpots and gutters.

The government has also rolled out the first malaria vaccination targeting children under six months old. Effective since January 22, the vaccine drive is the first official public launch of the Mosquirix vaccine outside of clinical trials, which have shown a 13% reduction in all-cause mortality, including malaria-related deaths, in children who were eligible to receive it.

Global health officials say the immunization campaign for the vaccine also known RTS,S marks a historic moment in the fight against this mosquito-borne disease, one of the most life-threatening infections in the world.

First published in NewsWatch newspaper No 169 of Tuesday February 13, 2024

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