Ethiopia plans to increase its electricity power supply by five-fold over the next five years to fulfill the needs of its people and support the economic growth based on large hydropower dams. Building large dams for hydropower generation may increase the transmission of malaria since they transform ecosystems and create new vector breeding habitats. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of Gilgel-Gibe hydroelectric dam in Ethiopia on malaria transmission and changing levels of prevalence in children.
A cross-sectional, community-based study was carried out between October and December 2005 in Jimma Zone, south-western Ethiopia, among children under 10 years of age living in three 'at-risk' villages (within 3 km from dam) and three 'control' villages (5 to 8 km from dam). The man-made Gilgel-Gibe dam is operating since 2004. Households with children less than 10 years of age were selected and children from the selected households were sampled from all the six villages. This included 1,081 children from 'at-risk' villages and 774 children from 'control' villages. Blood samples collected from children using finger prick were examined microscopically to determine malaria prevalence, density of parasitaemia and identify malarial parasite species.
Overall 1,855 children (905 girls and 950 boys) were surveyed. A total of 194 (10.5%) children were positive for malaria, of which, 117 (60.3%) for Plasmodium vivax, 76 (39.2%) for Plasmodium falciparum and one (0.5%) for both P. vivax and P. falciparum. A multivariate design-based analysis indicated that, while controlling for age, sex and time of data collection, children who resided in 'at-risk' villages close to the dam were more likely to have P. vivax infection than children who resided farther away (odds ratio (OR) = 1.63, 95% CI = 1.15, 2.32) and showed a higher OR to have P. falciparum infection than children who resided in 'control' villages, but this was not significant (OR = 2.40, 95% CI = 0.84, 6.88). A classification tree revealed insights in the importance of the dam as a risk factor for malaria. Assuming that the relationship between the dam and malaria is causal, 43% of the malaria occurring in children was due to living in close proximity to the dam.
This study indicates that children living in close proximity to a man-made reservoir in Ethiopia are at higher risk of malaria compared to those living farther away. It is recommended that sound prevention and control programme be designed and implemented around the reservoir to reduce the prevalence of malaria. In this respect, in localities near large dams, health impact assessment through periodic survey of potential vectors and periodic medical screening is warranted. Moreover, strategies to mitigate predicted negative health outcomes should be integral parts in the preparation, construction and operational phases of future water resource development and management projects.