Background: P. vivax is an important public health burden in Ethiopia, accounting for almost half of all malaria cases. Owing to heterogeneous transmission across the country, a stronger evidence base on local transmission dynamics is needed to optimise allocation of resources and improve malaria interventions.
Methodology and principal findings: In a pilot evaluation of local level P. vivax molecular surveillance in southern Ethiopia, the diversity and population structure of isolates collected between May and November 2013 were investigated. Blood samples were collected from microscopy positive P. vivax patients recruited to clinical and cross-sectional surveys from four sites: Arbaminch, Halaba, Badawacho and Hawassa. Parasite genotyping was undertaken at nine tandem repeat markers. Eight loci were successfully genotyped in 197 samples (between 36 and 59 per site). Heterogeneity was observed in parasite diversity and structure amongst the sites. Badawacho displayed evidence of unstable transmission, with clusters of identical clonal infections. Linkage disequilibrium in Badawacho was higher (IAS = 0.32, P = 0.010) than in the other populations (IAS range = 0.01-0.02) and declined markedly after adjusting for identical infections (IAS = 0.06, P = 0.010). Other than Badawacho (HE = 0.70), population diversity was equivalently high across the sites (HE = 0.83). Polyclonal infections were more frequent in Hawassa (67%) than the other populations (range: 8-44%). Despite the variable diversity, differentiation between the sites was low (FST range: 5 x 10-3-0.03).
Conclusions: Marked variation in parasite population structure likely reflects differing local transmission dynamics. Parasite genotyping in these heterogeneous settings has potential to provide important complementary information with which to optimise malaria control interventions.