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MIT: Fighting malaria by changing the environment
Date:1/28/2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. 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.

Reports on the work, carried out by Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Elfatih Eltahir and graduate students Arne Bomblies and Rebecca Gianotti, were presented this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Malaria, Eltahir explained, is "a significant global health challenge" that accounts for one-third of all deaths of children under 5 worldwide. By developing new software to analyze the impacts of different methods of attempting to limit malaria's spread, which involves a complex chain of transmission between larvae, mosquitoes and humans, "we have made significant progress" toward better control of the disease, he said.

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
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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