The role of improved housing and living environments in malaria control and elimination

Richard Carter and Nadira D. Karunaweera


Malaria risk and endemicity is often associated with the nature of human habitation and living environment. The disappearance of malaria from regions where it had been endemic for centuries, such as coastal areas of southern England, has been attributed, at least in part, to improvement in the quality of housing. Moreover, indigenous malaria transmission ceased throughout England without the necessity to eliminate the vector mosquitoes. The principles of malaria transmission, as formulated following the thinking of the pioneers of malaria epidemiology, Ronald Ross and George Macdonald, show how this may happen. Malaria ceases to be sustainable where its reproduction number, R0, the number of new cases generated on average for each existing case of malaria, falls below 1. In the terms of a Ross/Macdonald analysis the reduced contact between humans and blood-feeding mosquitoes that is achieved through housing that is secure against mosquito entry can have a powerful effect in reducing malaria R0. The island of Sri Lanka, where malaria had been endemic probably for centuries previously, has reported no indigenous cases of malaria since 2012. The disappearance of malaria from Sri Lanka followed an effective attack upon malaria transmission by the Sri Lanka Anti Malaria Campaign. The targeted and enhanced efforts of this campaign launched in 1999, drove the malaria R0 below 1 for most of the period up to 2012, leading to a nearly continuous decline in malaria cases until their extinction. The decades leading up to the launch of these efforts were ones of general improvement of living environment and notably in the quality of housing stock. Studies in the late 1980s had shown that quality of housing in a highly malarious district of Sri Lanka was a strong determinant of malaria risk. Through its effects on malaria R0, improved housing is likely to have facilitated the malaria control and cessation of indigenous malaria transmission in Sri Lanka and that it will help reduce the risk of the re-introduction of malaria to the island.