Back in the 1950s, the World Health Organization initiated the Global Malaria Eradication Program, which successfully eradicated malaria in 25 countries. Interestingly enough, almost all of the countries that succeeded were islands or adjacent to countries that also eliminated malaria (the two exceptions were Israel and Chile). The lesson was a simple but important one: When it comes to disease control, it matters who your neighbors are.
Researchers at the University of Florida took this idea to heart in a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences aimed at improving malaria elimination strategies. The underlying hypothesis of the study is that many national campaigns fail to eradicate malaria because they try to do so only within their national boundaries—borders drawn by colonialism, war, natural resources, and treaties. The borders of malaria, on the other hand, are determined by factors like climate, mosquitoes, and human migration. So the researchers analyzed migration patterns, malaria transmission maps, and global population data in order to determine the natural boundaries for malaria endemics in different regions of the world.