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Dams can be operated in ways to prevent disease, especially malaria

September 11, 2015 - 16:18 -- William Jobin

I fully support the conclusions of Solomon Kibret and colleagues about the health impact of dams in the tropics, especially regarding diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and aquatic snails.
REF just published in Malaria Journal - Malar J. 2015; 14: 339. Published online 2015 Sep 4. doi: 10.1186/s12936-015-0873-2 PMCID: PMC4560078
The title is : Malaria impact of large dams in sub-Saharan Africa: maps, estimates and predictions
by Solomon Kibret,corresponding author and Jonathan Lautze, Matthew McCartney, G. Glenn Wilson, and Luxon Nhamo.

We published a book on the same subject in 1999, Dams and Disease, by Taylor & Francis Publishers. In that book we pointed out that there are proven ways to construct and operate such dams in the tropics to minimize malaria transmission. The methods were developed by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the southern USA, in cooperation with CDC and the US Public Health Service. Those dam engineers would gain a great deal by studying their 1947 book - Malaria in Impounded Waters - published by the US govt printing office.

The same water-level manipulations which were developed to control anopheline mosquito breeding in the TVA can be used to control the aquatic snails which transmit human schistosomes. Currently, research on the water level manipulations is being conducted by the El Tahir group at MIT.


Submitted by Solomon Kibret on

Thank you so much for your comments Dr. Jobin. I've read your books and I've to say that they immensely contributed to my understanding of the link between dams and malaria. Long ago, you had described how dams could impact malaria in the tropics. Here is a region-wide study proving that you were right.

Yes, reservoir water-level management could mitigate malaria around dams. I've done experimental studies to test if optimizing water-level draw-dawns could influence mosquito larval abundance on the shoreline. My findings were interesting that faster drawdawn rates were associated with lower shoreline larval densities (Kibret et al. forthcoming).

I would say reservoir management should be mainstreamed in WHO guidelines for areas located close to large dams. In view of malaria elimination efforts in Africa, such additional non-conventional methods could reinforce vector control in the region.


Solomon Kibret Malaria Researcher Ethiopia

William Jobin's picture
Submitted by William Jobin on

You are right Solomon, additional non-conventional methods should reinforce vector control in the region. I think however that the only organization we can depend on for improving malaria control strategies is the US PMI. WHO has simply lost its resources and influence. So the PMI should add - to their existing strategy - two components. One is the ecological modifications to breeding sites which you describe. The second is to improve existing housing with simple modifications to reduce entry of mosquitoes, and replacing the temporary bednets with permanent metallic screens.

William Jobin Director of Blue Nile Associates