Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: West Africa


Malaria causes significant mortality and morbidity in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), especially among children less than five years of age (U5 children). Although the economic burden of malaria in this region has been assessed previously, the extent and variation of this burden remains unclear. This study aimed to estimate the economic costs of malaria in U5 children in three countries (Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya).

Concepts: North Africa, Niger-Congo languages, Malawi, West Africa, Sahara, Malaria, Sub-Saharan Africa, Africa


The unprecedented scale of the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa (2014-2015) has prompted an explosion of efforts to understand the transmission dynamics of the virus and to analyze the performance of possible containment strategies. Models have focused primarily on the reproductive numbers of the disease that represent the average number of secondary infections produced by a random infectious individual. However, these population-level estimates may conflate important systematic variation in the number of cases generated by infected individuals, particularly found in spatially localized transmission and superspreading events. Although superspreading features prominently in first-hand narratives of Ebola transmission, its dynamics have not been systematically characterized, hindering refinements of future epidemic predictions and explorations of targeted interventions. We used Bayesian model inference to integrate individual-level spatial information with other epidemiological data of community-based (undetected within clinical-care systems) cases and to explicitly infer distribution of the cases generated by each infected individual. Our results show that superspreaders play a key role in sustaining onward transmission of the epidemic, and they are responsible for a significant proportion ([Formula: see text]61%) of the infections. Our results also suggest age as a key demographic predictor for superspreading. We also show that community-based cases may have progressed more rapidly than those notified within clinical-care systems, and most transmission events occurred in a relatively short distance (with median value of 2.51 km). Our results stress the importance of characterizing superspreading of Ebola, enhance our current understanding of its spatiotemporal dynamics, and highlight the potential importance of targeted control measures.

Concepts: Inference, West Africa, Logic, Africa, Transmission and infection of H5N1, Infectious disease, Infection, Epidemiology


In its largest outbreak, Ebola virus disease is spreading through Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. We sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone to ~2000× coverage. We observed a rapid accumulation of interhost and intrahost genetic variation, allowing us to characterize patterns of viral transmission over the initial weeks of the epidemic. This West African variant likely diverged from central African lineages around 2004, crossed from Guinea to Sierra Leone in May 2014, and has exhibited sustained human-to-human transmission subsequently, with no evidence of additional zoonotic sources. Because many of the mutations alter protein sequences and other biologically meaningful targets, they should be monitored for impact on diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies critical to outbreak response.

Concepts: Economic Community of West African States, Guinea, West Africa, Genetics, Nigeria, DNA, Liberia, Sierra Leone


The African lion has declined to <35,000 individuals occupying 25% of its historic range. The situation is most critical for the geographically isolated populations in West Africa, where the species is considered regionally endangered. Elevating their conservation significance, recent molecular studies establish the genetic distinctiveness of West and Central African lions from other extant African populations. Interventions to save West African lions are urgently required. However formulating effective conservation strategies has been hampered by a lack of data on the species' current distribution, status, and potential management deficiencies of protected areas (PAs) harboring lions. Our study synthesized available expert opinion and field data to close this knowledge gap, and formulate recommendations for the conservation of West African lions. We undertook lion surveys in 13 large (>500 km(2)) PAs and compiled evidence of lion presence/absence for a further eight PAs. All PAs were situated within Lion Conservation Units, geographical units designated as priority lion areas by wildlife experts at a regional lion conservation workshop in 2005. Lions were confirmed in only 4 PAs, and our results suggest that only 406 (273-605) lions remain in West Africa, representing <250 mature individuals. Confirmed lion range is estimated at 49,000 km(2), or 1.1% of historical range in West Africa. PAs retaining lions were larger than PAs without lions and had significantly higher management budgets. We encourage revision of lion taxonomy, to recognize the genetic distinctiveness of West African lions and highlight their potentially unique conservation value. Further, we call for listing of the lion as critically endangered in West Africa, under criterion C2a(ii) for populations with <250 mature individuals. Finally, considering the relative poverty of lion range states in West Africa, we call for urgent mobilization of investment from the international community to assist range states to increase management effectiveness of PAs retaining lions.

Concepts: Aslan, West Africa, Caribbean, Tiger, Sub-Saharan Africa, Atlantic slave trade, Lion, Africa


Between 1500 and 1850, more than 12 million enslaved Africans were transported to the New World. The vast majority were shipped from West and West-Central Africa, but their precise origins are largely unknown. We used genome-wide ancient DNA analyses to investigate the genetic origins of three enslaved Africans whose remains were recovered on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. We trace their origins to distinct subcontinental source populations within Africa, including Bantu-speaking groups from northern Cameroon and non-Bantu speakers living in present-day Nigeria and Ghana. To our knowledge, these findings provide the first direct evidence for the ethnic origins of enslaved Africans, at a time for which historical records are scarce, and demonstrate that genomic data provide another type of record that can shed new light on long-standing historical questions.

Concepts: South America, United States, Ethnic group, Africa, United Kingdom, West Africa, Atlantic slave trade, Caribbean


The predominantly African origin of all modern human populations is well established, but the route taken out of Africa is still unclear. Two alternative routes, via Egypt and Sinai or across the Bab el Mandeb strait into Arabia, have traditionally been proposed as feasible gateways in light of geographic, paleoclimatic, archaeological, and genetic evidence. Distinguishing among these alternatives has been difficult. We generated 225 whole-genome sequences (225 at 8× depth, of which 8 were increased to 30×; Illumina HiSeq 2000) from six modern Northeast African populations (100 Egyptians and five Ethiopian populations each represented by 25 individuals). West Eurasian components were masked out, and the remaining African haplotypes were compared with a panel of sub-Saharan African and non-African genomes. We showed that masked Northeast African haplotypes overall were more similar to non-African haplotypes and more frequently present outside Africa than were any sets of haplotypes derived from a West African population. Furthermore, the masked Egyptian haplotypes showed these properties more markedly than the masked Ethiopian haplotypes, pointing to Egypt as the more likely gateway in the exodus to the rest of the world. Using five Ethiopian and three Egyptian high-coverage masked genomes and the multiple sequentially Markovian coalescent (MSMC) approach, we estimated the genetic split times of Egyptians and Ethiopians from non-African populations at 55,000 and 65,000 years ago, respectively, whereas that of West Africans was estimated to be 75,000 years ago. Both the haplotype and MSMC analyses thus suggest a predominant northern route out of Africa via Egypt.

Concepts: West Africa, World population, Somali people, Egypt, Ethiopia, Human, Sub-Saharan Africa, Africa


Background On March 23, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of an outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Guinea. On August 8, the WHO declared the epidemic to be a “public health emergency of international concern.” Methods By September 14, 2014, a total of 4507 probable and confirmed cases, including 2296 deaths from EVD (Zaire species) had been reported from five countries in West Africa - Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. We analyzed a detailed subset of data on 3343 confirmed and 667 probable Ebola cases collected in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone as of September 14. Results The majority of patients are 15 to 44 years of age (49.9% male), and we estimate that the case fatality rate is 70.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 69 to 73) among persons with known clinical outcome of infection. The course of infection, including signs and symptoms, incubation period (11.4 days), and serial interval (15.3 days), is similar to that reported in previous outbreaks of EVD. On the basis of the initial periods of exponential growth, the estimated basic reproduction numbers (R0 ) are 1.71 (95% CI, 1.44 to 2.01) for Guinea, 1.83 (95% CI, 1.72 to 1.94) for Liberia, and 2.02 (95% CI, 1.79 to 2.26) for Sierra Leone. The estimated current reproduction numbers ® are 1.81 (95% CI, 1.60 to 2.03) for Guinea, 1.51 (95% CI, 1.41 to 1.60) for Liberia, and 1.38 (95% CI, 1.27 to 1.51) for Sierra Leone; the corresponding doubling times are 15.7 days (95% CI, 12.9 to 20.3) for Guinea, 23.6 days (95% CI, 20.2 to 28.2) for Liberia, and 30.2 days (95% CI, 23.6 to 42.3) for Sierra Leone. Assuming no change in the control measures for this epidemic, by November 2, 2014, the cumulative reported numbers of confirmed and probable cases are predicted to be 5740 in Guinea, 9890 in Liberia, and 5000 in Sierra Leone, exceeding 20,000 in total. Conclusions These data indicate that without drastic improvements in control measures, the numbers of cases of and deaths from EVD are expected to continue increasing from hundreds to thousands per week in the coming months.

Concepts: Ebola, Incubation period, Economic Community of West African States, Nigeria, Guinea, West Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone


The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and other climate patterns can have profound impacts on the occurrence of infectious diseases ranging from dengue to cholera. In Africa, El Niño conditions are associated with increased rainfall in East Africa and decreased rainfall in southern Africa, West Africa, and parts of the Sahel. Because of the key role of water supplies in cholera transmission, a relationship between El Niño events and cholera incidence is highly plausible, and previous research has shown a link between ENSO patterns and cholera in Bangladesh. However, there is little systematic evidence for this link in Africa. Using high-resolution mapping techniques, we find that the annual geographic distribution of cholera in Africa from 2000 to 2014 changes dramatically, with the burden shifting to continental East Africa-and away from Madagascar and portions of southern, Central, and West Africa-where almost 50,000 additional cases occur during El Niño years. Cholera incidence during El Niño years was higher in regions of East Africa with increased rainfall, but incidence was also higher in some areas with decreased rainfall, suggesting a complex relationship between rainfall and cholera incidence. Here, we show clear evidence for a shift in the distribution of cholera incidence throughout Africa in El Niño years, likely mediated by El Niño’s impact on local climatic factors. Knowledge of this relationship between cholera and climate patterns coupled with ENSO forecasting could be used to notify countries in Africa when they are likely to see a major shift in their cholera risk.

Concepts: Central Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Climate change, Sahel, Madagascar, Africa


Poverty has been implicated as a challenge in the control of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Although disparities between affected countries have been appreciated, disparities within West African countries have not been investigated as drivers of Ebola transmission. To quantify the role that poverty plays in the transmission of Ebola, we analyzed heterogeneity of Ebola incidence and transmission factors among over 300 communities, categorized by socioeconomic status (SES), within Montserrado County, Liberia.

Concepts: Mali Empire, Ghana, Sub-Saharan Africa, Scramble for Africa, Atlantic slave trade, West Africa, Liberia, Africa


The West African cocoa belt, reaching from Sierra Leone to southern Cameroon, is the origin of about 70% of the world’s cocoa (Theobroma cacao), which in turn is the basis of the livelihoods of about two million farmers. We analyze cocoa’s vulnerability to climate change in the West African cocoa belt, based on climate projections for the 2050s of 19 Global Circulation Models under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change intermediate emissions scenario RCP 6.0. We use a combination of a statistical model of climatic suitability (Maxent) and the analysis of individual, potentially limiting climate variables. We find that: 1) contrary to expectation, maximum dry season temperatures are projected to become as or more limiting for cocoa as dry season water availability; 2) to reduce the vulnerability of cocoa to excessive dry season temperatures, the systematic use of adaptation strategies like shade trees in cocoa farms will be necessary, in reversal of the current trend of shade reduction; 3) there is a strong differentiation of climate vulnerability within the cocoa belt, with the most vulnerable areas near the forest-savanna transition in Nigeria and eastern Côte d'Ivoire, and the least vulnerable areas in the southern parts of Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia; 4) this spatial differentiation of climate vulnerability may lead to future shifts in cocoa production within the region, with the opportunity of partially compensating losses and gains, but also the risk of local production expansion leading to new deforestation. We conclude that adaptation strategies for cocoa in West Africa need to focus at several levels, from the consideration of tolerance to high temperatures in cocoa breeding programs, the promotion of shade trees in cocoa farms, to policies incentivizing the intensification of cocoa production on existing farms where future climate conditions permit and the establishment of new farms in already deforested areas.

Concepts: Economic Community of West African States, West Africa, Liberia, Ghana, Africa, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Climate