Conservation efforts may increase malaria burden in the Brazilian Amazon.
Large-scale forest conservation projects are underway in the Brazilian Amazon but little is known regarding their public health impact. Current literature emphasizes how land clearing increases malaria incidence, leading to the conclusion that forest conservation decreases malaria burden. Yet, there is also evidence that proximity to forest fringes increases malaria incidence, which implies the opposite relationship between forest conservation and malaria. We compare the effect of these environmental factors on malaria and explore its implications.Using a large malaria dataset (~1,300,000 positive malaria tests collected over ~4.5 million km(2)), satellite imagery, permutation tests, and hierarchical Bayesian regressions, we show that greater forest cover (as a proxy for proximity to forest fringes) tends to be associated with higher malaria incidence, and that forest cover effect was 25 times greater than the land clearing effect, the often cited culprit of malaria in the region. These findings have important implications for land use/land cover (LULC) policies in the region. We find that cities close to protected areas (PA's) tend to have higher malaria incidence than cities far from PA's. Using future LULC scenarios, we show that avoiding 10% of deforestation through better governance might result in an average 2-fold increase in malaria incidence by 2050 in urban health posts.Our results suggest that cost analysis of reduced carbon emissions from conservation efforts in the region should account for increased malaria morbidity, and that conservation initiatives should consider adopting malaria mitigation strategies. Coordinated actions from disparate science fields, government ministries, and global initiatives (e.g., Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation; Millenium Development Goals; Roll Back Malaria; and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria), will be required to decrease malaria toll in the region while preserving these important ecosystems.
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