Tackling malaria in Brazil

Aerial view of deforestation in Jamanxim National Forest, Para, Brazil.
Deforestation in Jamanxim National Forest, Para, Brazil.

November 30, 2023 — Since the start of her career, Marcia Castro has sought to use her research to inform policy change. Castro is Andelot Professor of Demography, and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a faculty affiliate at Harvard’s Center for International Development (CID). In a profile published November 1 on the blog CID Voices, Castro discussed how her experiences growing up in Brazil led to her current work exposing health inequities in the country, particularly around vector-borne diseases such as malaria

Marcia Castro
Marcia Castro

Castro was studying statistics at Rio de Janeiro State University in 1985, when Brazil transitioned from a military dictatorship to a democracy—a time “charged with possibility,” she said in the article. As a first-generation college graduate whose family did not have regular access to health care, she was inspired by efforts going on at the time to improve social welfare and health.

After working as a statistician in Brazil’s Social Security Ministry, where she analyzed population aging and workplace disability, she went on to pursue a master’s and PhD in demography. During her doctoral research, she pioneered spatial analysis methods that tease out social and geographical differences, and that she still uses in her work. For example, in a recent study she and her colleagues found a notable increase in malaria transmission in the Brazilian Amazon during the month following periods of deforestation—an effect missed by other studies.

But data only tells part of the story, Castro said in the CID article. Fieldwork must be part of the strategy for tackling a complex disease like malaria, she said. “It’s when you go into the field, talk to people, get your car stuck in the mud, and so forth, that you learn things not documented anywhere,” she said.

Read the CID Voices article: CID Faculty Spotlight: Marcia Castro on Improving Equity and Health Outcomes in Brazil

Learn more

How Marcia Castro is fighting malaria in Brazil (Harvard Chan School news)

Deforestation photo: iStock/Paralaxis