Climate Change and Highland Malaria: Fresh Air for a Hot Debate

L.F. Chaves, C.J.M. Koenraadt

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136 Citations (Scopus)


In recent decades, malaria has become established in zones at the margin of its previous distribution, especially in the highlands of East Africa. Studies in this region have sparked a heated debate over the importance of climate change in the territorial expansion of malaria, where positions range from its neglect to the reification of correlations as causes. Here, we review studies supporting and rebutting the role of climatic change as a driving force for highland invasion by malaria. We assessed the conclusions from both sides of the argument and found that evidence for the role of climate in these dynamics is robust. However, we also argue that over-emphasizing the importance of climate is misleading for setting a research agenda, even one which attempts to understand climate change impacts on emerging malaria patterns. We review alternative drivers for the emergence of this disease and highlight the problems still calling for research if the multidimensional nature of malaria is to be adequately tackled. We also contextualize highland malaria as an ongoing evolutionary process. Finally, we present Schmalhausen's law, which explains the lack of resilience in stressed systems, as a biological principle that unifies the importance of climatic and other environmental factors in driving malaria patterns across different spatio-temporal scales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-55
JournalQuarterly Review of Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • anopheles-gambiae s.s.
  • western kenya highlands
  • east-african highlands
  • entomological inoculation rates
  • plasmodium-falciparum malaria
  • nino southern-oscillation
  • mosquito-borne disease
  • medium-sized town
  • mm-x traps
  • risk-factors


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