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Deforestation and Malaria

It turns out that deforestation isn't just a big picture environmental problem -- it has direct, immediate, negative results for human communities. A study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Johns Hopkins University has found that "malaria-inducing mosquitoes are likely to bite humans more than 200 times more often in cleared areas versus forested ones." Authors Jonathan Patz and Amy Yomiko Vittor argue that it's not just more people moving in to deforested regions that boost the infection rates, but a profound increase in the number of mosquitos.

Malaria rates in the Peruvian Amazon have soared dramatically in recent years, jumping from a few hundred cases in 1992 to more than 120,000 cases, or over a third of the population, by 1997... As trees have been steadily cleared away, the insect has presumably thrived in the more exposed, breeding-friendly pools still remaining in such disturbed habitats... The fact that deforestation, one of the fastest global drivers of landscape change, may affect the prevalence of a disease like malaria raises larger issues, says Patz. "I feel conservation policy is one and the same with public health policy," he says. "It's probable that protected conservation areas may ultimately be an important tool in our disease prevention strategies."

It seems that global environmental disruption isn't enough to discourage rampant deforestation, but direct threats to the health of local citizens just might be.

(Thanks for the tip, Jon Foley)

Comments (2)


This is very interesting news (well known by local communities all over the tropics).
I hope it brings policy makers closer to understanding the need for reforestation and making an end to unnecessary deforestation. The health costs alone may well surpass the immediate economic benefits of slashing down forests.

Michelle V. Parker:

This is very interesting news to me. It contradicts what I was told by SE Asians when I was living in Singapore in the 1990s. They believe (and rightly so, it seems) that mosquitoes thrive in the shade-filled areas of trees and shrubs, since the relative darkness provides good camouflage for the mosquitoes.

Perhaps when there is deforestation then the mosquitoes are left with fewer places to land, thereby making humans more of a "landing target"?


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