USAID and National Institute of Health study draws the link between climate change and disease outbreak in Mozambique

1 March 2018

Image: In Mozambique, Malaria cases remained steady between 2010 and 2012, then rapidly increased between 2013 and 2014. The malaria incidence from 2010-2012 and 2013-2014 was compared to climate data in order to uncover why malaria incidence rose between 2013 and 2014 compared to the earlier years.

The USAID-funded project, Climate Change Adaptation, Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS), aims to improve the quality and effectiveness of climate risk reduction in development programs. It does this through tested, harmonised approaches to adaptation assessments, thought leadership, and by building the capacity of partnering institutions.

Outbreaks of infectious diseases are generally connected to temperature and rainfall. However, the nature of this connection varies between individual diseases and a number of socio-economic and ecological factors unique to each. This means each individual location and disease requires separate analysis in order to better understand the connection between climate and disease incidence.

Over the past few years, USAID-Atlas has been supporting Mozambique’s National Institute of Health to examine the relationship between temperature and rainfall trends and diarrhoeal disease and malaria rates in Mozambique. The aim is to use this information to streamline and improve future national health responses to these diseases.

The primary output of the ATLAS study is filling the evidence gap for Mozambique by providing information on how climate variability and change will impact malaria and diarrhoeal disease incidence and distribution.

The results of the study were first disseminated by the National Observatory of Health at the high-level public dialogue on climate change and health in June 2017. In March 2018, the full technical report was published and made available to the public.

What are the key findings of the ATLAS study?  

Diarrhoeal diseases:  An increase in temperatures of 1°C in any day during the week increases incidence of the disease by one to six percent (depending on the region) that same week. Even minimal rainfall (at least one millimetre) on any given day of the week will increase incidence by one percent four weeks later.

In the future, climate projections show higher temperatures and more variable rainfall, which are likely to increase the number of cases of diarrheal disease.

Malaria: Warmer days and nights increase incidence of malaria. Heavy rainfall decreases incidence of malaria in the north of Mozambique (presumably due to washing out of breeding sites). Even a one-day increase in days with a little rain (at least one millimetre) increases incidence of malaria by two percent four weeks later.

In the future, increases in temperature and more variable rainfall will likely cause malaria to move into areas previously unsuitable to the disease, such as the highlands in northern Tete and western Niassa Provinces.

The findings of the study help health decision-makers understand future climate-related health risks to plan more targeted and strategic local responses. This will help make efficient use of limited funds and resources.

The ATLAS study highlights the lifesaving potential of integrating weather and climate information into disease surveillance systems in Mozambique. It also shows the importance of updating the disease reporting systems themselves from paper-based to mobile/SMS reporting to allow for the dynamic prediction of changes in disease incidence.

Through its newly established Climate, Environment and Health Observatory, Mozambique continues to improve the health sector’s use of climate data.  These successes illustrate the significant progress that the Ministry of Health is making toward strengthening the climate-resilience of its health system.