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Deforestation: effects on vector-borne disease

  • J. F. Walsh (a1), D. H. Molyneux (a1) and M. H. Birley (a1)

Summary

This review addresses' changes in the ecology of vectors and epidemiology of vector-borne diseases which result from deforestation. Selected examples are considered from viral and parasitic infections (arboviruses, malaria, the leishmaniases, nlariases, Chagas Disease and schistosomiasis) where disease patterns have been directly or indirectly influenced by loss of natural tropical forests. A wide range of activities have resulted in deforestation. These include colonisation and settlement, transmigrant programmes, logging, agricultural activities to provide for cash crops, mining, hydropower development and fuelwood collection. Each activity influences the prevalence, incidence and distribution of vector-borne disease. Three main regions are considered – South America, West & Central Africa and South-East Asia. In each, documented changes in vector ecology and behaviour and disease pattern have occurred. Such changes result from human activity at the forest interface and within the forest. They include both deforestation and reafforestation programmes. Deforestation, or activities associated with it, have produced new habitats for Anopheles darlingi mosquitoes and have caused malaria epidemics in South America. The different species complexes in South-East Asia (A. dirus, A. minimus, A. balabacensis) have been affected in different ways by forest clearance with different impacts on malaria incidence. The ability of zoophilic vectors to adapt to human blood as an alternative source of food and to become associated with human dwellings (peridomestic behaviour) have influenced the distribution of the leishmaniases in South America. Certain species of sandflies (Lutzomyia intermedia, Lu. longipalpis, Lu. whitmani), which were originally zoophilic and sylvatic, have adapted to feeding on humans in peridomestic and even periurban situations. The changes in behaviour of reservoir hosts and the ability of pathogens to adapt to new reservoir hosts in the newly-created habitats also influence the patterns of disease. In anthroponotic infections, such as Plasmodium, Onchocerca and Wuchereria, changes in disease patterns and vector ecology may be more difficult to detect. Detailed knowledge of vector species and species complexes is needed in relation to changing climate associated with deforestation. The distributions of the Anopheles gambiae and Simulium damnosum species complexes in West Africa are examples. There have been detailed longitudinal studies of Anopheles gambiae populations in different ecological zones of West Africa. Studies on Simulium damnosum cytoforms (using chromosome identification methods) in the Onchocerciasis Control Programme were necessary to detect changes in distribution of species in relation to changed habitats. These examples underline the need for studies on the taxonomy of medically-important insects in parallel with long-term observations on changing habitats. In some circumstances, destruction of the forest has reduced or even removed disease transmission (e.g. S. neavei-transmitted Onchocerca in Kenya). Whilst the process of deforestation can be expected to continue, hopefully at a decreased rate, it is expected that unpredictable and sometimes rapid changes in disease patterns will pose problems for the public health services.

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