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Land use / land cover change and malaria risk in the Amazon region

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Large-scale forest conservation projects are underway in the Amazon region but little is known regarding their public health impact. Current literature emphasizes how land clearing increases malaria incidence, leading to the conclusion that forest conservation decreases malaria burden. Yet, there is also evidence that proximity to forest fringes increases malaria incidence, which implies the opposite relationship between forest conservation and malaria.

In this presentation, I will report findings from a detailed individual-level study conducted in a rural settlement area in Acre State and from a analysis of malaria data encompassing an unprecedented geographical scale (~4.5 million km2). We show that proximity to forest fringes substantially enhance malaria risk, much more so than land clearing (the often cited culprit of malaria in the region). We find that cities close to protected areas (PA’s) tend to have higher malaria incidence than cities far from PA’s. Using future LULC scenarios, we show that avoiding 10% of deforestation through better governance might result in an average 2-fold increase in malaria incidence by 2050 in urban health posts.

Our results suggest that cost analysis of reduced carbon emissions from conservation efforts in the region should account for increased malaria morbidity, and that conservation initiatives should consider adopting malaria mitigation strategies. Coordinated actions from disparate science fields, government ministries, and global initiatives, will be required to decrease malaria toll in the region while preserving these important ecosystems.

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