A team of Australian researchers is using satellite data and geographical information systems to help predict patterns of parasitic diseases like malaria, worms and hydatids in developing countries.
The project, led by Professor Archie Clements from the Australian National University, combines satellite data from fields such as temperature, rainfall, vegetation and land usage with local health data within a geographical information system (GIS), creating maps that plot problem areas and can be used to forecast disease patterns.
The project looks to help local health authorities in their efforts to manage outbreaks of disease by predicting and identifying where incidences of infection might occur and delivering faster, more tailored treatment responses in that region. The maps also assist in carrying out preventative measures. In the case of malaria, scientists and healthcare workers can deduce where outbreaks will occur before they happen and undertake preventative action, such as distributing mosquito nets to residents in the area.
“Some diseases are highly sensitive to their environment, especially parasitic diseases. With remote sensing you can identify places where disease flourishes,” said Professor Clements, Director of the Research School of Population Health. “The result is maps that are accessible to countries with limited capacity for managing disease data, tailored to their local needs.”
Plotting and predicting occurrences of malaria has already been trialled in Bhutan, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands as part of this project and the team is now looking to expand into larger countries and encompass other diseases such as Dengue fever.