Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fighting malaria by changing the environment

Terra Daily: Modifying the environment by using everything from shovels and plows to plant-derived pesticides may be as important as mosquito nets and vaccinations in the fight against malaria, according to a computerized analysis by MIT researchers.

The researchers have developed a new computer model for analyzing different methods of trying to control the spread of malaria, one of the world's most-devastating diseases. Among their findings using the model is that environmental measures such as leveling the land to eliminate depressions where pools can form can be an important part of the strategy for controlling the disease.

…While most efforts at dealing with malaria have focused on the human side, such as attempts to develop a vaccine, Eltahir said that efforts to control environmental factors --such as working to eliminate the low spots where pools of water collect during the rainy season, or applying locally grown plant materials to limit the growth of mosquitoes - can have a dramatic effect on controlling malaria's spread.

And unlike importing expensive medicines, such an approach can rely on local efforts as simple as having people with shovels fill in the low spots in the terrain. "By using local tools and local labor, our approach relies less on high-technology equipment from outside the region, which tends to make the local people more dependent," he said.

…Eliminating pools of standing water, or increasing drainage so that such pools last less than the seven to 10 days it takes for the mosquitoes to mature, can be an effective strategy, the analysis shows. In addition, it allows comparison of different methods. Filling in the low spots using shovels, it turns out, is as effective at controlling the disease as plowing the land so that water more rapidly percolates down into the soil…..

…"For the first time, we have a detailed computer model" of all the different factors in the disease's spread, Eltahir said. By making it possible to run detailed simulations of a wide variety of strategies, "we can do a lot of things, in this region or elsewhere, that we could never do in the past. It can allow you to do things in a more cost-effective way."…

False-color electron micrograph of the malaria sporozoite, from a Public Library of Science journal. Their website states that the content of all PLoS journals is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license.

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