Malaria kills. It kills people, economies, and has inflicted untold pain and suffering throughout human history. Today malaria accounts for one third of all deaths worldwide for children under 5, and the vast majority in Sub-Saharan Africa. Professor Elfatih Eltahir and graduate students Arne Bomblies and Rebecca Gianotti presented research last December about a computer model that can help fight this devastating disease.The computer model analyzes the impacts of different methods for controlling the spread of malaria, and they have found that carefully considering environmental factors can be an important strategy for controlling the disease. Eliminating low spots where pools of water form during the rainy season, or applying locally grown plants that limit the growth of mosquitoes can have significant impact on the spread of the disease.
"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," said Eltahir.
The computer model was validated over 4 years working in a remote area of Niger, and represents a technology that can be used today, but it can also predict vulnerable areas due to climate change. The software provides a quantitative methodology for comparing several strategies in a given region, providing insight into how effective a combinatorial response of landscape alteration and other mitigation techniques can reduce the spread of malaria.
Altering the landscape so that pools of water don't exist for longer than 7 days is not a novel idea, but it is effective and long lasting "Once a breeding site is gone, it's gone" Bomblies said.
"For the first time, we have a detailed computer model 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," said Eltahir.