Modelling of Malaria Risk, Rates, and Trends: A Spatiotemporal approach for identifying and targeting sub-national Areas of High and Low Burden

Jailos Lubinda, Y Bi, Busiku Hamainza, Ubydul Haque, AJ Moore

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While mortality from malaria continues to decline globally, incidence rates in many countries are rising. Within countries, spatial and temporal patterns of malaria vary across communities due to many different physical and social environmental factors. To identify those areas most suitable for malaria elimination or targeted control interventions, we used Bayesian models to estimate the spatiotemporal variation of malaria risk, rates, and trends to determine areas of high or low malaria burden compared to their geographical neighbours. We present a methodology using Bayesian hierarchical models with a Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) based inference to fit a generalised linear mixed model with a conditional autoregressive structure. We modelled clusters of similar spatiotemporal trends in malaria risk, using trend functions with constrained shapes and visualised high and low burden districts using a multi-criterion index derived by combining spatiotemporal risk, rates and trends of districts in Zambia. Our results indicate that over 3 million people in Zambia live in high-burden districts with either high mortality burden or high incidence burden coupled with an increasing trend over 16 years (2000 to 2015) for all age, under-five and over-five cohorts. Approximately 1.6 million people live in high-incidence burden areas alone. Using our method, we have developed a platform that can enable malaria programs in countries like Zambia to target those high-burden areas with intensive control measures while at the same time pursue malaria elimination efforts in all other areas. Our method enhances conventional approaches and measures to identify those districts which had higher rates and increasing trends and risk. This study provides a method and a means that can help policy makers evaluate intervention impact over time and adopt appropriate geographically targeted strategies that address the issues of both high-burden areas, through intensive control approaches, and low-burden areas, via specific elimination programs.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1008669
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
None of the author(s) received any specific funding for this work. The UK Commonwealth Scholarship supported JL while UH was supported in part by the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as part of the University of Florida Pre-eminence Initiative. We are grateful for the help rendered by Gary Napier of the University of Glasgow for checking that the use of his trends R code worked as intended.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Lubinda et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Malaria risk
  • malaria trends
  • malaria rates
  • spatio-Temporal patterns
  • Malaria
  • People and places
  • Medicine and health sciences
  • Biology and life sciences
  • Research Article


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