Contracting infectious diseases in Sub-Saharan African wetlands: A question of use? A review

Carmen Anthonj, Andrea Rechenburg, Christoph Höser, Thomas Kistemann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Worldwide the pressure on water is increasing. In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), natural wetlands constitute the only accessible water resources, providing water free of charge, agricultural potential and livelihoods in otherwise uninhabitable landscapes, which is why they are being used extensively. The degradation and contamination of water which result from the use of wetlands has the potential to spread disease-causing microorganisms and provide increased breeding habitats for disease vectors, Despite this importance, case studies are lacking and knowledge gaps remain about whether and how different kinds of wetland use influence the exposure to health risks and transmission of infectious diseases.

This descriptive literature review aimed at identifying publications from peer-reviewed journals and book chapters that (i) address water-related infectious diseases in SSA wetlands and (ii) link those diseases to use-related exposures. The resulting overview includes 27 publications and shows that depending on the type of use, people in wetlands are exposed to different risk factors and water-related infectious diseases. Exposure to infectious agents depends on occupational characteristics, and time spent in wetlands. Disease transmission is driven by users’ contact to water, characteristics of pathogens and vectors of disease. The amount of available literature varies significantly. Whereas several publications have linked crop production and the domestic use of wetland water to contraction of diseases, fewer are available on health risks identified with pastoralism in wetlands and other uses. Some risk factors are well researched, such as irrigation schemes favouring schistosomiasis prevalence. For others, including proximity of pastoralists to their livestock and the associated trachoma risk, knowledge remains limited.

This review establishes connections of selected diseases with different transmission pathways that are linked to specific risk factors, transmission pathways and resulting diseases. All of these have been integrated into a detailed conceptual framework which simplifies the complexity of the relationships, while at the same time identifying missing links which might provide stimulus for future research tackling the potential research gaps. It concludes that socio-cultural and behavioural considerations regarding the wetland users are not sufficiently evaluated and should receive increased attention in future investigations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1110-1123
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


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