Discarded plastic waste in the peri-urban environment is a serious challenge for sustainable waste management and for the delivery of environmental and public health. In many cities in sub-Saharan Africa, plastic wastes block urban drainage systems, and during rain events this often leads to localised flooding, with an increased risk of exposure to raw sewage in standing water. Importantly, urban plastic litter can act as a transient receptacle for rainwater and thus provide a larval habitat for mosquitoes. Although the role of plastic pollution on mosquito ecology is poorly understood, this increased abundance of mosquito habitat in the peri-urban environment can lead to increased vector density and the incidence of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, Zika, dengue and lymphatic filariasis. Urban wastes can also be an attractant for flies, e.g. filth flies such as the house fly (Musca domestica), which can transfer enteric diseases such as dysentery, diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera, particularly if the waste has been in contact with a source of faecal contamination (e.g. following flooding or via scavenging by domestic or wild animals). Consequently, urban litter may also play an important role in the emergence of novel zoonotic diseases or genes for anti-microbial resistance. Therefore, quantifying whether plastic waste in the peri-urban environment is providing breeding sites for disease vectors, is important for addressing the Sustainability Development Goals (e.g. SDG3), and critical for incentivising policy-makers to provide resources to local communities for the removal of urban litter as part of a sustainable strategy to reduce disease burden and the risk of emerging infectious diseases.
The aim of this project is to uniquely link pathogen ecology with disease & waste management within a multidisciplinary framework and provide tangible evidence for an increased disease burden due to peri-urban plastic waste.
Key research questions:
Understanding the multidisciplinary interactions between sustainable disease management & sustainable waste management will be directly addressed through this studentship by focussing on the following questions:
1. Do different types of plastic litter preferentially attract mosquito oviposition, and can plastic litter facilitate disease transfer via flies?
2. Can a reduction in urban litter reduce pathogen and vector abundance (and disease burden)?
3. How do people interact with plastic litter and do they view it as a source of disease either through mosquitos or enteric diseases?
4. What are the socio-political obstacles for incentivising governments to remove peri-urban litter and increase sustainable waste disposal?