Malaria patterns across altitudinal zones of Mount Elgon following intensified control and prevention programs in Uganda

10 July 2020

Background Malaria remains a major tropical vector-borne disease of immense public health concern owing to its debilitating effects in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past 30 years, the high altitude areas in Eastern Africa have been reported to experience increased cases of malaria. Governments including that of the Republic of Uganda have responded through intensifying programs that can potentially minimize malaria transmission while reducing associated fatalities. However, malaria patterns following these intensified control and prevention interventions in the changing climate remains widely unexplored in East African highland regions. This study thus analyzed malaria patterns across altitudinal zones of Mount Elgon, Uganda. Methods Times-series data on malaria cases (2011-2017) from five level III local health centers occurring across three altitudinal zones; low, mid and high altitude was utilized. Inverse Distance Weighted (IDW) interpolation regression and Mann Kendall trend test were used to analyze malaria patterns. Vegetation attributes from the three altitudinal zones were analyzed using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) was used to determine the Autoregressive Integrated Moving Average (ARIMA) model was used to project malaria patterns for a 7 year period. Results Malaria across the three zones declined over the study period. The hotspots for malaria were highly variable over time in all the three zones. Rainfall played a significant role in influencing malaria burdens across the three zones. Vegetation had a significant influence on malaria in the higher altitudes. Meanwhile, in the lower altitude, human population had a significant positive correlation with malaria cases. Conclusions Despite observed decline in malaria cases across the three altitudinal zones, the high altitude zone became a malaria hotspot as cases variably occurred in the zone. Rainfall played the biggest role in malaria trends. Human population appeared to influence malaria incidences in the low altitude areas partly due to population concentration in this zone. Malaria control interventions ought to be strengthened and strategically designed to achieve no malaria cases across all the altitudinal zones. Integration of climate information within malaria interventions can also strengthen eradication strategies of malaria in such differentiated altitudinal zones.