i initiative

Space and Development…Increasing Access to Space in Africa

Dust, Dry Days and Disease in Africa 1

Posted by Simon Adebola on April 16, 2009

Two diseases plaguing most of the African continent are malaria and meningitis. The public health implications of these diseases lay a huge economic and social burden on the governments of African states- a burden too huge to bear. This has been supported by various initiatives aimed at dealing with these scourges. The rise in international support for the control of Malaria has seen the development of effective control programmes in many African Countries.

Meningitis is known to occur sporadically all over the world with seasonal outbreaks common in an area known as the meningitis belt made up of countries that lie mostly within the Sahel Region of Africa. This shows a strong link between the outbreak of the disease and common environmental factors. Ongoing work by the European Space Agency in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and other partners suggest a link between meningitis, dust storms, low humidity and dry spells (no rain). These possible environmental correlates of meningitis are all monitorable using satellite data.

The Group on Earth Observation has health as one of its Societal Benefit Areas and meningitis is also being studied as a disease of concern that could be monitored using satellite imagery. This is done by developing geo-statistical models that demonstrate the link between the disease epidemiology and the factors observable in the environment. This is then used in predicting possible outbreaks and in guiding public health interventions such as vaccination campaigns, increasing stocks of antibiotic drugs and strengthening health system surveillance and preparedness. Meningitis has a case fatality rate of about 70% but with prompt antibiotic treatment this can fall to 10%. This predictive capability can save lives and has been successfully accomplished for Rift Valley Fever using satellite imagery supplied by NASA in developing disease risk models in predicting the outbreak of the disease. The International Research Institute for Climate and Society also have ongoing activities on Malaria and Meningitis.

These along with other possibilities are some of the advantages of the SERVIR Africa Project. This aims to act in ‘enabling the use of Earth observations and predictive models for timely decision making to benefit society’. The opportunities are truly limitless. We have to tackle head on the challenge of capacity building in raising a competent army of scientists and developers in utilizing these imagery and models. These results are used in strengthening policy making and institutional practices to support agriculture, health, mineral resource and water management, environmental monitoring and conservation, and other fields that stand to benefit from these uses of earth observation imagery.

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