Malaria burden is increasing in sub-Saharan cities because of rapid and uncontrolled urbanization. Yet very few studies have studied the interactions between urban environments and malaria. Additionally, no standardized urban land-use/land-cover has been defined for urban malaria studies. Here, we demonstrate the potential of local climate zones (LCZs) for modeling malaria prevalence rate ( Pf PR 2−10) and studying malaria prevalence in urban settings across nine sub-Saharan African cities. Using a random forest classification algorithm over a set of 365 malaria surveys we: (i) identify a suitable set of covariates derived from open-source earth observations; and (ii) depict the best buffer size at which to aggregate them for modeling Pf PR 2−10.
Our results demonstrate that geographical models can learn from LCZ over a set of cities and be transferred over a city of choice that has few or no malaria surveys. In particular, we find that urban areas systematically have lower Pf PR 2−10 (5%–30%) than rural areas (15%–40%). The Pf PR 2−10 urban-to-rural gradient is dependent on the climatic environment in which the city is located. Further, LCZs show that more open urban environments located close to wetlands have higher Pf PR 2−10. Informal settlements—represented by the LCZ 7 (lightweight lowrise)—have higher malaria prevalence than other densely built-up residential areas with a mean prevalence of 11.11%. Overall, we suggest the applicability of LCZs for more exploratory modeling in urban malaria studies.