Predicting Plasmodium knowlesi transmission risk across Peninsular Malaysia using machine learning-based ecological niche modeling approaches

Wei Kit Phang, Mohd Hafizi bin Abdul Hamid, Jenarun Jelip, Rose Nani binti Mudin, Ting-Wu Chuang, Yee Ling Lau, Mun Yik Fong

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4 Citations (Scopus)


The emergence of potentially life-threatening zoonotic malaria caused by Plasmodium knowlesi nearly two decades ago has continued to challenge Malaysia healthcare. With a total of 376 P. knowlesi infections notified in 2008, the number increased to 2,609 cases in 2020 nationwide. Numerous studies have been conducted in Malaysian Borneo to determine the association between environmental factors and knowlesi malaria transmission. However, there is still a lack of understanding of the environmental influence on knowlesi malaria transmission in Peninsular Malaysia. Therefore, our study aimed to investigate the ecological distribution of human P. knowlesi malaria in relation to environmental factors in Peninsular Malaysia. A total of 2,873 records of human P. knowlesi infections in Peninsular Malaysia from 1st January 2011 to 31st December 2019 were collated from the Ministry of Health Malaysia and geolocated. Three machine learning-based models, maximum entropy (MaxEnt), extreme gradient boosting (XGBoost), and ensemble modeling approach, were applied to predict the spatial variation of P. knowlesi disease risk. Multiple environmental parameters including climate factors, landscape characteristics, and anthropogenic factors were included as predictors in both predictive models. Subsequently, an ensemble model was developed based on the output of both MaxEnt and XGBoost. Comparison between models indicated that the XGBoost has higher performance as compared to MaxEnt and ensemble model, with AUCROC values of 0.933 ± 0.002 and 0.854 ± 0.007 for train and test datasets, respectively. Key environmental covariates affecting human P. knowlesi occurrence were distance to the coastline, elevation, tree cover, annual precipitation, tree loss, and distance to the forest. Our models indicated that the disease risk areas were mainly distributed in low elevation (75–345 m above mean sea level) areas along the Titiwangsa mountain range and inland central-northern region of Peninsular Malaysia. The high-resolution risk map of human knowlesi malaria constructed in this study can be further utilized for multi-pronged interventions targeting community at-risk, macaque populations, and mosquito vectors.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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