Researchers at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) are working with partners to control infectious diseases in areas of the world adapting to the effects of climate change, helping to secure health and economic benefits.
The Shire Valley Vector Control Project (Shire-Vec) in Malawi is one of many international collaborations led by LSTM, working with partners in low- and middle-income countries to combat vector-borne diseases – when humans are infected by parasites through the bite of an insect – and improve health and economic outcomes.
Shire-Vec is led at LSTM by Dr Chris Jones, a vector biologist originally from Merseyside, in partnership with Dr Themba Mzilahowa from the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences in Blantyre, Malawi.
It’s just one example of how an institution based here in Liverpool is striving to improve global health, linked to our biggest challenges, from the effects of climate change, to sustainability, food security and population growth. Expert researchers at LSTM are deepening the understanding and combating the threat of disease in our increasingly interconnected world.
The project is investigating the Shire Valley Transformation programme – a 40,000-hectare irrigation scheme which began construction in 2020. Based in the Chikwawa district in the southern region of Malawi, Shire-Vec researchers will look at how the new irrigation scheme affects vector-borne diseases like malaria and schistosomiasis and their influence on local farms.
Large irrigation schemes implemented as a result of uncertain annual rains are designed to improve agricultural food production, but an increase in mosquito and snail-borne diseases are potential negative side effects – with both local and global consequences.
Dr Chris Jones, Senior Lecturer at LSTM, said:
“Shire-Vec is about looking at the intersection between food production and infectious diseases. These two go hand-in-hand and shouldn’t be looked at in isolation, particularly in areas where vector-borne diseases are endemic, and crops rely on irrigated water systems. We need locally appropriate solutions that balance food security with infectious disease control, particularly in areas such as Chikwawa, which are subject to the increasingly harsh realities of climate change”.
Funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, Shire-Vec is a collaboration between LSTM, KUHeS, Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Clinical Research Programme and African Institute for Development Policy.
Announced in 2020, researchers are now busy collecting samples, monitoring changes to insect and snail populations and their distribution and how human behaviours might affect transmission risk.
Their work has been impacted by devastating cyclones and floods in the region in the last couple of years, demonstrating the escalating effects of climate change on food and crop production and the urgent need to help local farmers and understand how to combat the risks of vector-borne disease.
Working with local farmers, Shire-Vec will also pilot new interventions for vector management, and provide recommendations for mitigating vector-borne disease in future planned extensions of the irrigation scheme and other national agricultural developments.
Through engagement with stakeholders and policy makers, it is hoped the programme will have a lasting impact in the region by reforming policies and reducing the transmission risk and burden of vector borne diseases, whilst maintaining or improving equitable economic benefits from newly expanded irrigated land in Malawi.
It also has the potential to demonstrate how schemes designed to support local farming communities to combat the effects of extreme weather and support a growing population can be successful, while managing the potential risk of the spread of infectious disease.
Find out more about Shire-Vec: https://www.lstmed.ac.uk/shire-vec and visit our website for more examples of how LSTM works with partners internationally to tackle some of our greatest global health challenges: https://www.lstmed.ac.uk/.