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Malar J. 2018 Feb 20;17(1):85. doi: 10.1186/s12936-018-2235-3.

Climatic fluctuations and malaria transmission dynamics, prior to elimination, in Guna Yala, República de Panamá.

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Unidad de Análisis Epidemiológico y Bioestadísticas, Instituto Commemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud, Panamá, República de Panamá.
Departamento de Investigación en Parasitología, Instituto Commemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud, Panamá, República de Panamá.
Instituto Costarricense de Investigación y Enseñanza en Nutrición y Salud (INCIENSA), Apartado 4-2250, Tres Ríos, Cartago, Costa Rica.
Programa de Investigación en Enfermedades Tropicales (PIET), Escuela de Medicina Veterinaria, Universidad Nacional, Apartado Postal 304-3000, Heredia, Costa Rica.



Malaria has historically been entrenched in indigenous populations of the República de Panamá. This scenario occurs despite the fact that successful methods for malaria elimination were developed during the creation of the Panamá Canal. Today, most malaria cases in the República de Panamá affect the Gunas, an indigenous group, which mainly live in autonomous regions of eastern Panamá. Over recent decades several malaria outbreaks have affected the Gunas, and one hypothesis is that such outbreaks could have been exacerbated by climate change, especially by anomalous weather patterns driven by the EL Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).


Monthly malaria cases in Guna Yala (1998-2016) were autocorrelated up to 2 months of lag, likely reflecting parasite transmission cycles between humans and mosquitoes, and cyclically for periods of 4 months that might reflect relapses of Plasmodium vivax, the dominant malaria parasite transmitted in Panamá. Moreover, malaria case number was positively associated (P < 0.05) with rainfall (7 months of lag), and negatively with the El Niño 4 index (15 months of lag) and the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, NDVI (8 months of lag), the sign and magnitude of these associations likely related to the impacts of weather patterns and vegetation on the ecology of Anopheles albimanus, the main malaria vector in Guna Yala. Interannual cycles, of approximately 4-year periods, in monthly malaria case numbers were associated with the El Niño 4 index, a climatic index associated with weather and vegetation dynamics in Guna Yala at seasonal and interannual time scales.


The results showed that ENSO, rainfall and NDVI were associated with the number of malaria cases in Guna Yala during the study period. These results highlight the vulnerability of Guna populations to malaria, an infection sensitive to climate change, and call for further studies about weather impacts on malaria vector ecology, as well as the association of malaria vectors with Gunas paying attention to their socio-economic conditions of poverty and cultural differences as an ethnic minority.


Anopheles albimanus; Climate change; El Niño Southern Oscillation; Gunas; Malaria elimination; NDVI; Plasmodium vivax; Poverty; Seasonal autoregressive; Wavelets

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