Human population, urban settlement patterns and their impact on Plasmodium falciparum malaria endemicity.
Tatem AJ., Guerra CA., Kabaria CW., Noor AM., Hay SI.
BACKGROUND: The efficient allocation of financial resources for malaria control and the optimal distribution of appropriate interventions require accurate information on the geographic distribution of malaria risk and of the human populations it affects. Low population densities in rural areas and high population densities in urban areas can influence malaria transmission substantially. Here, the Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) global database of Plasmodium falciparum parasite rate (PfPR) surveys, medical intelligence and contemporary population surfaces are utilized to explore these relationships and other issues involved in combining malaria risk maps with those of human population distribution in order to define populations at risk more accurately. METHODS: First, an existing population surface was examined to determine if it was sufficiently detailed to be used reliably as a mask to identify areas of very low and very high population density as malaria free regions. Second, the potential of international travel and health guidelines (ITHGs) for identifying malaria free cities was examined. Third, the differences in PfPR values between surveys conducted in author-defined rural and urban areas were examined. Fourth, the ability of various global urban extent maps to reliably discriminate these author-based classifications of urban and rural in the PfPR database was investigated. Finally, the urban map that most accurately replicated the author-based classifications was analysed to examine the effects of urban classifications on PfPR values across the entire MAP database. RESULTS: Masks of zero population density excluded many non-zero PfPR surveys, indicating that the population surface was not detailed enough to define areas of zero transmission resulting from low population densities. In contrast, the ITHGs enabled the identification and mapping of 53 malaria free urban areas within endemic countries. Comparison of PfPR survey results showed significant differences between author-defined 'urban' and 'rural' designations in Africa, but not for the remainder of the malaria endemic world. The Global Rural Urban Mapping Project (GRUMP) urban extent mask proved most accurate for mapping these author-defined rural and urban locations, and further sub-divisions of urban extents into urban and peri-urban classes enabled the effects of high population densities on malaria transmission to be mapped and quantified. CONCLUSION: The availability of detailed, contemporary census and urban extent data for the construction of coherent and accurate global spatial population databases is often poor. These known sources of uncertainty in population surfaces and urban maps have the potential to be incorporated into future malaria burden estimates. Currently, insufficient spatial information exists globally to identify areas accurately where population density is low enough to impact upon transmission. Medical intelligence does however exist to reliably identify malaria free cities. Moreover, in Africa, urban areas that have a significant effect on malaria transmission can be mapped.