Virginia Tech researchers find link between diarrhea incidence and more prolonged droughts in Africa

Publication Date: 
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Using health data from Botswana spanning a 30-year period (1974–2003), researchers at Virginia Tech evaluated monthly reports of diarrheal disease among patients presenting to Botswana health facilities and compared this to climatic variables. Diarrheal case incidence presented with a bimodal cyclical pattern with peaks in March (ANOVA p < 0.001) and October (ANOVA p < 0.001) in the wet and dry season, respectively. There was a strong positive autocorrelation (p < 0.001) in the number of reported diarrhea cases at the one-month lag level. Climatic variables (rainfall, minimum temperature, and vapor pressure) predicted seasonal diarrheal with a one-month lag in variables (p < 0.001). Diarrheal case incidence was highest in the dry season after accounting for other variables, exhibiting on average a 20% increase over the yearly mean (p < 0.001). Their analysis suggests that forecasted climate change increases in temperature and decreases in precipitation may increase dry season diarrheal disease incidence with hot, dry conditions starting earlier and lasting longer. Diarrheal disease incidence in the wet season is likely to decline. The results identify significant health-climate interactions, highlighting the need for an escalated public health focus on controlling diarrheal disease in Botswana. Study findings have application to other arid countries in Africa where diarrheal disease is a persistent public health problem. This journal article is available for free via the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.