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Land use and human activity patterns in relation to the plague disease in the West Usambara Mountains, Tanzania

Marianne HUBEAU student laureate
marianne.hubeau@ees.kuleuven.be

°1987 Belgium
Bio-engineer in Land and Forest Management, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 2010

Land use and human activity patterns in relation to the plague disease in the West Usambara Mountains, Tanzania

This thesis is part of a long-running study by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the Universiteit Antwerpen and Sokoine University in Tanzania into the spread of bubonic plague in Tanzania. Though it may sound medieval to Europeans, this disease still occurs all over the world, but often in small isolated areas. The Usambara Mountains in Tanzania is one such area, where between 1980 and 2004 bubonic plague made an annual appearance in villages in a small area of around 15 x 15 kilometres but not beyond. There have been no cases of bubonic plague in recent years, but the disease can always flare up again. Earlier study of the rodents and fleas (the infection’s natural hosts) failed to explain why the plague should occur in that particular place and in some villages more than others.
In the nominated study Marianne Hubeau investigated the possibility of a connection between the spread of plague and people’s use of space. She looked at both static patterns (which activities – such as living, farming, collecting wood, fetching water, etc. – happen where) and movement patterns (which routes people use to fetch water, collect firewood or go to market) and examined how often and how long people were underway or stayed in a particular spot. She found that plague occurs more often in villages where people are active in a larger area around the village and in the vicinity of places where they collect firewood. This should now be studied in further detail.
The study shows that the spread of plague is not only the result of the natural environment in an area but also of how people use the environment. This information is important in estimating the risks and in setting up prevention campaigns in the Usambara Mountains and in other regions in Tanzania where plague occurs.
 

Report: Prof. H. Leirs, Evolutionary Ecology, Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium