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

high-technology equipment from outside the region, which tends to make the local people more dependent," he said.

In addition, the new comprehensive computer model will provide a tool for analyzing how different areas' vulnerability to malaria will be affected by a changing climate.

To validate the accuracy of the computer modeling of conditions, the team has been working for the last four years in a remote area of Niger, which lies in the Sahel desert region of northern Africa. "Africa is the hot spot for malaria in general," Eltahir explained, so this fieldwork provides substantial validation of the model.

In the field, Bomblies and others have monitored every aspect of malaria's lifecycle, including doing counts of mosquito larvae and adult mosquitoes, identifying the exact species of mosquitoes (since only specific varieties carry the malaria parasite), and mapping the topography and monitoring the size and duration of pools of water where the mosquitoes breed. "We gathered data that would serve as validation for the model that we were developing," Bomblies 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.

That is not a new idea, but the new software provides a quantitative way to compare its impact with other approaches, and to develop specific strategies for a given region. Filling in low spots "is an established technique," said Bomblies, who has spent a total of 13 months leading the fieldwork in Niger. "But it hasn't been specifically applied in the region in which we've been working."

And unlike other approaches such a
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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