This study assessed the interannual variability of malaria occurrence from 2001 to 2009 in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. We tested for associations of climate variables summarized during the dry (January-April), early transition (May-June), and wet (July-September) seasons with malaria incidence in the early peak (May-July) and late peak (September-December) epidemic seasons using generalized linear models. Climate variables included land surface temperature (LST), rainfall, actual evapotranspiration (ET), and the enhanced vegetation index (EVI).
We found that both early and late peak malaria incidence had the strongest associations with meteorological conditions in the preceding dry and early transition seasons. Temperature had the strongest influence in the wetter western districts, whereas moisture variables had the strongest influence in the drier eastern districts. We also found a significant correlation between malaria incidence in the early and the subsquent late peak malaria seasons, and the addition of early peak malaria incidence as a predictor substantially improved models of late peak season malaria in both of the study sub-regions.
The impacts of interannual climate fluctuations on vector-borne diseases, especially malaria, have received considerable attention in the scientific literature. These effects can be significant in semi-arid and high-elevation areas such as the highlands of East Africa because cooler temperature and seasonally dry conditions limit malaria transmission. Many previous studies have examined short-term lagged effects of climate on malaria (weeks to months), but fewer have explored the possibility of longer-term seasonal effects.
These findings suggest that climatic effects on malaria prior to the main rainy season can carry over through the rainy season and affect the probability of malaria epidemics during the late malaria peak. The results also emphasize the value of combining environmental monitoring with epidemiological surveillance to develop forecasts of malaria outbreaks, as well as the need for spatially stratified approaches that reflect the differential effects of climatic variations in the different sub-regions.