Sri Lanka Malaria Maps
© Briët et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2003
Received: 02 April 2003
Accepted: 22 July 2003
Published: 22 July 2003
Despite a relatively good national case reporting system in Sri Lanka, detailed maps of malaria distribution have not been publicly available.
In this study, monthly records over the period 1995 – 2000 of microscopically confirmed malaria parasite positive blood film readings, at sub-district spatial resolution, were used to produce maps of malaria distribution across the island. Also, annual malaria trends at district resolution were displayed for the period 1995 – 2002.
The maps show that Plasmodium vivax malaria incidence has a marked variation in distribution over the island. The incidence of Plasmodium falciparum malaria follows a similar spatial pattern but is generally much lower than that of P. vivax. In the north, malaria shows one seasonal peak in the beginning of the year, whereas towards the south a second peak around June is more pronounced.
This paper provides the first publicly available maps of both P. vivax and P. falciparum malaria incidence distribution on the island of Sri Lanka at sub-district resolution, which may be useful to health professionals, travellers and travel medicine professionals in their assessment of malaria risk in Sri Lanka. As incidence of malaria changes over time, regular updates of these maps are necessary.
The Anti Malaria Campaign (AMC) Directorate of the Ministry of Health in Sri Lanka maintains a relatively good national case reporting system. However, maps of malaria disease distribution over the island have not been available to a wide public, until a recent publication of a map based on 1989–1994 incidence data at district resolution . Travel medicine Internet sites describe in their advice to travellers to Sri Lanka merely that the risk of malaria is present all year round in all areas (below 800 m altitude), except in the districts of Colombo, Kalutara, and Nuwara Eliya, and sometimes unrealistic maps are posted.
In Sri Lanka, two species of malaria, Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum, are present. The main vector is Anopheles culicifacies, which breeds mainly in pools in stagnant rivers, and therefore, its density is mostly dependent on temporal and spatial variations in rainfall and river flow. An. culicifacies also breeds in abandoned gem mining pits and agricultural wells. Vectors of less importance are Anopheles annularis, Anopheles subpictus, Anopheles tessellatus and Anopheles vagus .
This publication provides information on spatial and temporal distribution of malaria incidence on the island of Sri Lanka. Malaria incidence maps are useful in allocating limited malaria control resources to the malaria prone areas at the right time. They may also be useful to health professionals, travellers and travel medicine professionals in their assessment of malaria risk in Sri Lanka.
The mapping is based on monthly records over the period January 1995–December 2000 of microscopically confirmed malaria parasite positive blood film readings, at the spatial resolution of Medical Officer of Health (MOH) areas. These were collected by the AMC from aggregated disease records reported by governmental hospitals and mobile clinics. MOH area boundaries are in accordance with the Divisional Secretariat Division (DSD) boundaries (See additional files 1 and 2: Map and list of Divisional Secretariat Divisions), except that some MOH areas cover multiple DSDs. DSDs are administrative units below the district level with a median population of about 50,000 and an average surface of 208 km2. District resolution 2001 and 2002 data were included to show recent developments.
Most people in Sri Lanka with suspected malarial fever seek diagnosis and treatment in government health facilities . In all provincial hospitals and in malaria endemic zones also in district and rural hospitals, and in some dispensaries, a microscopist is permanently available for laboratory diagnosis of malaria. Private clinics usually have limited facilities or expertise available for malaria detection, except the private hospitals in Colombo. When parasites are detected, patients are treated with chloroquine 10 mg/kg bodyweight, and normally with 8-amino quinaline (primaquine) against liver stages of P. vivax.
In the few cases where records for one month or two succeeding months were missing (due to absence of a microscopist), data were estimated by interpolation of monthly case series. In situations where malaria confirmed case data for three or more succeeding months were not available, these months' data were marked as missing.
As a denominator for the incidence calculations, population estimates (See additional file 3: Population) were made by exponential interpolation (and extrapolation to 2002) of 1994 and 2001 census data from the Department of Census and Statistics http://www.statistics.gov.lk. For those districts in the north and east not covered by the census, and for which only a district total estimate was posted, DSD populations were estimated according to the population distribution over the districts from data posted by the North East Provincial council http://www.nepc.lk/index.htm.
The GIS package ArcView was used to modify a DSD map of Sri Lanka to MOH area boundaries and ArcView and MapInfo were used to produce maps of malaria distribution across the island.
Results and discussion
There are several concerns with the quality of the data. In the North and East, malaria case data from there may be grossly underestimated. Due to the armed conflict there was shortage of trained microscopists in these areas and only a small part of the clinical cases is microscopically confirmed . In the rest of the country, the availability of field assistants for blood film collection and the availability of microscopists was high, and the authors estimate the proportion of microscopically confirmed cases to be about 70% . Unfortunately, we have no precise data available to study the effect of the availability of field assistants and microscopists on the number of blood films examined. In general, there is high acceptance of blood filming by the population [4, 5].
It is AMC policy to cross-check 10% of Plasmodium positive blood films, and 10% of negative films for parasite presence and species identification, both at District and Central levels. However, after decentralisation of the AMC in 1989, cross-checking was often not performed. Only sporadically blood films were cross-checked at the central laboratory, and no records were kept. In June 2000, a new policy was installed to cross-check films at the central laboratory. Mostly films with doubtful readings were sent to the AMC central laboratory for cross-checking, and only from a limited number of districts and months. Therefore, we could not estimate the error rate for the period under study. An AMC report over the year 1988, before the decentralisation, states a species misidentification of 0%, an error of 0.2% false positives (1.6% of positive slides cross-checked), and 1% false negatives (5% of negative slides cross-checked) . We believe that the quality has since improved as microscopists received more extensive training (1 year versus 6 months) since 1990.
Self-treatment with anti-malarials is relatively uncommon in Sri Lanka. In four-hundred-and-forty-three household interviews in 1992 in Kataragama, Monaragala District, none reported keeping a stock of anti-malarial drugs at home (DMG, unpublished data). In a survey in 1999 at governmental hospital level in nine malarious districts (outside the conflict area), none out of nine-hundred patients diagnosed with P. falciparum reported the use of anti-malarial drugs prior to presentation at the hospital, whereas 19% had taken non anti-malarial drugs, mostly administered by the government hospital or dispensary . However, in 2000 in Mallavi, Mullaitivu District (in the conflict area), 7.4% of patients reported self-treatment with chloroquine prior to presentation to the outpatient department (OPD), and 84.5% with non anti-malarial drugs . It is not known how many people successfully treated themselves with anti-malarial drugs and therefore did not present themselves to the governmental facility in the latter two studies.
Patients who seek treatment at non-governmental health facilities are not registered, and this leads to further underestimation of the number of cases. In a study in three MOH areas in Monaragala, only about half the cases were treated at governmental health facilities and therefore registered, with considerable variation at Grama Nilhadari resolution . Grama Nilhadari are administrative units with the highest spatial resolution used in Sri Lanka. However, at coarser resolution, gross spatial bias due to treatment at private facilities is expected to be limited, as governmental facilities are the preferred diagnosis and treatment centres (69% in an irrigation resettlement area (Mahaweli System C) in Badulla District , >75% in Kataragama, Monaragala District , 84% in a location in Hurulawewa, Anuradhapura District , 83 – 97% in four villages in and around Lunugamwehera irrigation project, Hambantota District ), even in the conflict areas (80% in Mallavi, Mullaitivu District ).
Another spatial bias is the fact that cases detected in occasional mass blood surveys in selected villages in high risk areas are also included in the statistics. However, these blood films tend not to exceed 1% of the total examined.
Incidence and recrudescence of Plasmodium falciparum in 1999 in nine districts of Sri Lanka
P. falciparum cases
P. falciparum incidence (× 1000)
Number of patients followed for 28 days*
Another concern for data quality is that the population census data may be less reliable in the North and East. Also, an important number of malaria infections may not have been contracted at the place of reporting. This may especially be true for infections contracted by military personnel in the conflict zone and reported in their place of residence while on medical leave. Furthermore, until 2000, cases were generally ascribed to the MOH area of the reporting hospital, regardless of the place of residence of the patient.
Clearly, the northern areas are facing a serious malaria problem. Difficulties in obtaining prompt treatment may have enhanced malaria transmission. In the rest of the country this factor seems of a lesser importance, as the health systems are generally well developed. Socio-economic factors such as personal protection against mosquitoes and quality of housing construction are important in explaining the distribution of malaria incidence. More important, however, are factors influencing malaria mosquitoes, such as temperature (altitude), rainfall and resulting river flow (See additional files 4: temperature, 5: altitude, 6: rainfall, and 7: rivers and lakes), but also (chemical) control efforts by the AMC. Especially the latter factor has historically played an important role in the malaria epidemiology in Sri Lanka . After 1983, no more governmental vector control has been implemented in the northern areas. To learn more about the relative importance of socio-economic and environmental risk factors for malaria, a spatial regression analysis linking incidence directly to covariates (as information on vector density and distribution is scarce) is being done, the results of which will be disseminated in due course.
There is evidence of considerable spatial variation in the risk of malaria transmission at a higher resolution than the MOH area scale presented in this paper. Malaria is a disease of rural areas and cities are mostly unaffected. The distance of houses to breeding sites of malaria vectors within a MOH area is an important risk factor [16, 17]. The authors of this study are currently working on a malaria risk map of the Badulla and Monaragala districts at Grama Nilhadari resolution.
This paper provides the first publicly available maps of both P. vivax and P. falciparum malaria incidence distribution on the island of Sri Lanka at sub-district resolution. The maps show that both P. vivax and P. falciparum malaria incidence have a marked variation in distribution over the island, even within districts. The incidence of P. falciparum malaria follows a similar spatial pattern to that of P. vivax but is generally much lower. In the north, malaria shows one seasonal peak in the beginning of the year, whereas towards the south a second peak around June becomes more pronounced.
These maps may be useful for the planning of malaria control activities. They also may be useful to health professionals, travellers and travel medicine professionals in their assessment of malaria risk in Sri Lanka. However, as incidence of malaria changes over time, regular updates of these maps are necessary.
This study was part of a joint program of research between to the International Water Management Institute and the Anti Malaria Campaign of Sri Lanka and was financed from grants made available to IWMI by the governments of Japan and The Netherlands. We acknowledge the Directorate of the AMC and Regional Malaria Officers for making malaria data available, and Dr. G.N.L. Galappaththy for kind permission to reproduce part of the data in the table.
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