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How Bad Will Malaria Season Be? New System Could Help Tell

This Is Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Scientists have what they say is a better early warning system for the spread of malaria. The system uses computer programs from Europe to study climate conditions.

Changes in climate and rainfall influence the spread of malaria. The risk of a severe outbreak increases after a season of heavy rain.

The disease is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water. So more water means more places for the insects to reproduce.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than one million people every year die from malaria. Most are young African children. Hundreds of millions of other people get sick.

The new system is called Demeter. The scientists say it can help show countries with malaria what the weather will be like several months into the future. The computer models combine information on ocean warming, sea surface temperatures, wind and rainfall levels.

The scientists described the new system in a report in the journal Nature. They tested it with climate information from Botswana from between nineteen eighty-two and two thousand two.

The models were most successful at predicting years with very low outbreaks of malaria. The scientists say Demeter was correct eighty-five percent of the time.

The work involved scientists from Britain, the United States and Botswana.

Tim Palmer led a team in England at the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. He says the system will give health officials more time to try to limit the spread of malaria. Other early warning systems used in parts of Africa provide only several weeks to prepare.

More time to prepare would mean more time to supply people with anti-malaria drugs and bed nets treated with insect poison. It would also mean more time to cover water supplies and areas where rainwater collects.

Demeter is being used now to help countries in southern Africa. Simian Mason from the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York is involved in the project. He says the findings so far suggest that the next malaria season should not be especially bad.

He says there was a risk of a little higher rainfall than normal. But he says the scientists did not feel this would mean a big increase in the risk of malaria epidemics this year.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. Read and listen to our reports at This is Shep O'Neal.