Understanding work-related travel and its relation to malaria occurrence in Thailand using geospatial maximum entropy modelling
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Estimating malaria risk associated with work locations and travel across a region provides local health officials with information useful to mitigate possible transmission paths of malaria as well as understand the risk of exposure for local populations. This study investigates malaria exposure risk by analysing the spatial pattern of malaria cases (primarily Plasmodium vivax) in Ubon Ratchathani and Sisaket provinces of Thailand, using an ecological niche model and machine learning to estimate the species distribution of P. vivax malaria and compare the resulting niche areas with occupation type, work locations, and work-related travel routes. A maximum entropy model was trained to estimate the distribution of P. vivax malaria for a period between January 2019 and April 2020, capturing estimated malaria occurrence for these provinces. A random simulation workflow was developed to make region-based case data usable for the machine learning approach. This workflow was used to generate a probability surface for the ecological niche regions. The resulting niche regions were analysed by occupation type, home and work locations, and work-related travel routes to determine the relationship between these variables and malaria occurrence. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) test was used to understand the relationship between predicted malaria occurrence and occupation type. The MaxEnt (full name) model indicated a higher occurrence of P. vivax malaria in forested areas especially along the Thailand–Cambodia border. The ANOVA results showed a statistically significant difference between average malaria risk values predicted from the ecological niche model for rubber plantation workers and farmers, the two main occupation groups in the study. The rubber plantation workers were found to be at higher risk of exposure to malaria than farmers in Ubon Ratchathani and Sisaket provinces of Thailand. The results from this study point to occupation-related factors such as work location and the routes travelled to work, being risk factors in malaria occurrence and possible contributors to transmission among local populations.