Research Article: Preventing Childhood Malaria in Africa by Protecting Adults from Mosquitoes with Insecticide-Treated Nets

Date Published: July 3, 2007

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Gerry F Killeen, Tom A Smith, Heather M Ferguson, Hassan Mshinda, Salim Abdulla, Christian Lengeler, Steven P Kachur, Jonathan Dushoff

Abstract: BackgroundMalaria prevention in Africa merits particular attention as the world strives toward a better life for the poorest. Insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) represent a practical means to prevent malaria in Africa, so scaling up coverage to at least 80% of young children and pregnant women by 2010 is integral to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Targeting individual protection to vulnerable groups is an accepted priority, but community-level impacts of broader population coverage are largely ignored even though they may be just as important. We therefore estimated coverage thresholds for entire populations at which individual- and community-level protection are equivalent, representing rational targets for ITN coverage beyond vulnerable groups.Methods and FindingsUsing field-parameterized malaria transmission models, we show that high (80% use) but exclusively targeted coverage of young children and pregnant women (representing <20% of the population) will deliver limited protection and equity for these vulnerable groups. In contrast, relatively modest coverage (35%–65% use, with this threshold depending on ecological scenario and net quality) of all adults and children, rather than just vulnerable groups, can achieve equitable community-wide benefits equivalent to or greater than personal protection.ConclusionsCoverage of entire populations will be required to accomplish large reductions of the malaria burden in Africa. While coverage of vulnerable groups should still be prioritized, the equitable and communal benefits of wide-scale ITN use by older children and adults should be explicitly promoted and evaluated by national malaria control programmes. ITN use by the majority of entire populations could protect all children in such communities, even those not actually covered by achieving existing personal protection targets of the MDG, Roll Back Malaria Partnership, or the US President's Malaria Initiative.

Partial Text: The massive malaria burden in Africa merits particular attention as the world struggles to realize a better life for the poorest [1,2]. The Anopheles mosquitoes that act as vectors for human Plasmodium parasites must access sugar, blood, and aquatic oviposition sites to complete their life cycle and maintain parasite transmission. The availability of such ecological resources to mosquitoes has long been recognized as a crucial determinant of malaria transmission [3], but quantitative understanding of this process, as well as viable means to prevent it, remain poorly developed compared with other disease [4] and pest systems [5]. Recent theoretical work highlights the enormous influence of blood source and aquatic habitat availability in determining malaria transmission intensity, disease burden, and their responsiveness to various forms of control [6–12]. Here we apply field-parameterized kinetic models of mosquito host availability [11,13] to identify important shortcomings of current global targets for delivering insecticide treated nets (ITNs) [2,14,15], the most important vector control tool in Africa today. Not only does the model outline the limitations of existing strategies that emphasize targeting of vulnerable groups such as young children and pregnant women [16–18], it also indicates how complementary strategies to promote coverage of whole populations, including nonvulnerable adults and older children [19], will achieve greater and more equitable reduction of disease burden than otherwise would be possible.

Figure 3 illustrates how increasing community-level protection of ITN nonusers and users alike combines with constant individual protection to reduce exposure to malaria. Regardless of vector species or the availability of alternative hosts, modestly effective conventional ITNs achieve much greater impact upon human exposure, even that of users, if approximately half or more of the whole human population is covered. While this principle has already been suggested by field trials [19] and two independently formulated models [11,12], here we have identified specific coverage thresholds at which communal protection becomes greater than or equal to individual personal protection. Where alternative hosts for vector mosquitoes are absent, 35% of the human population must sleep under regular ITNs to achieve equivalence of personal and communal protection mechanisms, resulting in major community-wide suppression of exposure. The same target is achieved at 55% coverage where alternative hosts such as cattle are present.

In addition to the direct impacts on vector populations explicitly modelled above, coverage of adults and older children is likely to have further benefits arising from subtleties of mosquito resource utilization that are often under-appreciated. Over 80% of human-to-mosquito transmission originates from adults and children over five years of age, because these groups constitute the bulk of the population and are more attractive to mosquitoes [56]. Where the entomological inoculation rate is fewer than ten infectious bites per person per year, the distributions of infectiousness [56,69], morbidity, and mortality will all shift into these older age groups, necessitating protection of all members of the population. Under such conditions, ITNs could suppress transmission not only through direct impacts on mosquito mortality, host choice, and feeding frequency [11], but also by limiting the prevalence, density, and infectiousness of malaria parasites in the human population [56].



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