BACKGROUND: High altitude settings in Eastern Africa have been reported to experience increased malaria burden due to vector habitat expansion. This study explored possible associations between malaria test positivity rates and its predictors including malaria control measures and meteorological factors at a high-altitude, low malaria transmission setting, south of Mount Kilimanjaro.
METHODS: Malaria cases reported at the Tanganyika Plantation Company (TPC) hospital's malaria registers, meteorological data recorded at TPC sugar factory and data on bed nets distributed in Lower Moshi from 2009 to 2018 were studied. Correlation between bed nets distributed and malaria test positivity rates were explored by using Pearson correlation analysis and the associations between malaria test positivity rates and demographic and meteorological variables were determined by logistic regression and negative binomial regression analyses, respectively.
RESULTS: Malaria cases reported at TPC hospital ranged between 0.48 and 2.26% per year and increased slightly at the introduction of malaria rapid diagnostic tests. The risk of testing positive for malaria were significantly highest among individuals aged between 6 and 15 years (OR = 1.65; 1.65 CI = 1.28-2.13; p = 0.001) and 16-30 years (OR = 1.49; CI = 1.17-1.89; p = 0.001) and when adjusted for age, the risk were significantly higher among male individuals when compared to female individuals (OR = 1.54; 1.00-1.31; p = 0.044). Malaria test positivity rates were positively associated with average monthly minimum temperatures and negatively associated with average monthly maximum temperatures (incidence rate ratio (IRR) = 1.37, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.05-1.78, p = 0.019 and IRR = 0.72, 95% CI = 0.58-0.91, p = 0.005, respectively). When analysed with one month lag for predictor variables, malaria test positivity rates were still significantly associated with average monthly minimum and maximum temperatures (IRR = 1.67, 95% CI = 1.28-2.19, p = 0.001 and IRR = 0.68, 95% CI = 0.54-0.85, p = 0.001, respectively). Average monthly rainfall and relative humidity with or without a one month lag was not associated with malaria test positivity rates in the adjusted models. Explopring possible associations between distribution of long-lasting insecticidal nets, (LLINs) and malaria test positivity rates showed no apparent correlation between numbers of LLINs distributed in a particular year and malaria test positivity rates.
CONCLUSION: In Lower Moshi, the risk of being tested positive for malaria was highest for older children and male individuals. Higher minimum and lower maximum temperatures were the strongest climatic predictors for malaria test positivity rates. In areas with extensive irrigation activity as in Lower Moshi, vector abundance and thus malaria transmission may be less dependent on rainfall patterns and humidity. Mass distribution of LLINs did not have an effect in this area with already very low malaria transmission.