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Space and Development…Increasing Access to Space in Africa

Archive for the ‘Healthcare’ Category

Dust, Dry Days and Disease in Africa 3

Posted by Simon Adebola on August 14, 2009

Images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board the NASA Terra and Aqua satellites have been very useful in tracking the spread of dust on and away from the African continent. This has also helped in guiding researchers and scientists in observing the links between this spreading dust and various climatic and biological phenomena.
Saharan Dust Travels Over The Atlantic

The image above depicts the flow of dust off the west coast of Africa. The following description from the NASA Earth Observatory states that,

“The Sahara experiences extreme variations in land surface temperature—from freezing temperatures at night to more than 54.4°C (130°F) during the day. The extreme daytime heating in the Sahara Desert, especially during the summer, causes instability in the lowest level of the atmosphere. Dust-laden air rises and begins moving westward. As the air travels—a trip that often takes several days—it continues heating. When this Saharan Air Layer moves off the African coast and over the Atlantic Ocean, it is undercut by a cooler, wetter layer of air. Air normally cools with altitude, but the Saharan Air Layer passing over cooler air currents causes a temperature inversion, which suppresses mixing. As a result, Saharan dust often travels across the Atlantic, sometimes remaining visible throughout the trip.”

Dust moves freely across the continent and blows off the coast driven by the various winds and thus goes to contribute to the soil profile of other parts of the world. It also settles in the ocean along its way adding nutrients and thus embellishing oceanic ecological patterns.

But what effect does this have on human health and livelihood? In looking at that we would like to consider the amount of the earth’s surface that is potentially exposed to airborne dust. Airborne dust has been described, by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States, as the primary source of allergic stress worldwide. Deserts (in this case referring to non-polar arid zones) are major sources of dust particles.

Global Distribution of Non-Polar Arid Land (Source: Meig, 1953 in Edwards, K. 2001)

Global Distribution of Non-Polar Arid Land (Source: Meig, 1953 in Edwards, K. 2001)

D. W. Griffin has worked on using satellites to monitor the global spread of dust and linking this with its effects on ecology and human health. His work (in this paper with C. A. Kellogg) identified these effects on life forms, both human and in the oceans, and on various continents. The identified effects include coral bleaching, algal blooms and allergenic effects on humans, including aggravating asthma. This may not be solely due to desert dust but the increased concentration of these dust particles, some as fine as 2.5 microns, in combination with other industrial and environmental pollutants may play a role in immunogenic responses that cause ill health. The human respiratory mucosa usually traps dust particles and tries to clear the respiratory passageways of these irritants. However, these very fine particles may exacerbate that response. This is of more serious concern in individuals with compromised respiratory and immunologic responses.

A lot of the research in this area has focused on the Trans-Atlantic effects of dust spread. This has had effects in the USA and the Carribeans. Griffin reported studies stating a 17 fold increase in paediatric asthma between 1976 and 1999. Other studies identified a relationship between dust events and hospital asthma visits. This however was not solely due to dust of African origin, which was said to have contributed (~50%) alongside other sources of dust activity. Also, the link between dust events and the epidemic prone disease, meninigitis, is already being investigated.

In strengthening the capacity to detect which dust events and sources are responsible for some disease events in Africa, the use of satellite technologies play a very important role. This occupies a relevant area of research alongside other initiatives to boost the monitoring and reporting capacity for Air Quality Indices. There are various aspects of using available resources for strengthening our awareness of the effects of inspired air on human health. The training of scientists and continued collaboration with the environmental sector, meteorologists, climatologists, public health researchers, and healthcare policy makers is a definite step towards developing a functional warning system with strong interventional capability. Academic research institutions can mobilize resources to develop training programmes in support of this crucial area of need. Ultimately such efforts may not go far without governmental support. The role of environmental and healthcare organizations in developing awareness and response capacity and acting to engage political leadership is also of importance. Hand in hand, individuals and associations can work to bring about a safer and securer environment to live and work in.

You can follow the progression of the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) on this site with frequently uploaded satellite images.

Posted in Africa, Earth observation, Epidemiology, Global Security, Health, Healthcare, NASA, Satellites, Science, Space, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Africa, Mars, Space and Development- An Interview

Posted by Simon Adebola on June 23, 2009

He conceived and organized the ‘African Mission to Mars’ conference, his research team pioneered the use of space-based technologies for water-borne disease prevention, he is a respected neuroscientist and neurosurgeon. He is also the Chairman, International Institutes of Advanced Research and Training, Chidicon Medical Center located in Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria. Prince Dr Philip C. Njemanze has been an inspiration to many and here is his interview as conducted by ‘i initiative’.

1. Can you tell us about yourself and how you got into space activities?

Prince Dr Phillip C. Njemanze

Prince Dr Phillip C. Njemanze

I must say that I have been fascinated by Space from childhood, right from the time I started reciting ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’ with my Dad at about age 5. However, my first real encounter with Space medical research was in the Soviet Union in 1983, as I worked as a medical student researcher at Rostov State Medical Institute Order of Friendship in Rostov-on-Don Russia with the famous physiologist, Prof Danilov of happy memory. It was on cardiovascular research using Sphygmography for Space-based applications, a work that won the All Soviet Students’ Scientific Research of the Soviet Academy of Science named after Academic Orbeli in Erevan, USSR. I continued my student research at the Institute of Neurocybernetics in Rostov-on-Don Russia under Prof Kogan on tracing pain pathways as a means of developing neurocybernetic control systems suitable for space research.

After my medical school in Russia in 1986, I went for postgraduate studies in Germany, and studied neurosurgery which led me into research of cerebrospinal fluid flow dynamics using magnetic resonance imaging.

Njemanze PC, Beck OJ (1989) MR-gated intracranial CSF dynamics: evaluation of CSF pulsatile flow. AJNR American Journal of Neuroradiology, 10 (1), 77-80

The invention of transcranial Doppler about this time by Rune Aaslid meant that I could continue my research on cardiovascular changes associated with brain blood flow specifically the use of Fourier Analysis of the Cerebrovascular System by 1991

Njemanze PC, Beck OJ, Gomez CR, Horenstein S (June 1991) Fourier analysis of the cerebrovascular system, Stroke. Journal of Cerebral Circulation, 22 (6), 721-6

Just about this time I felt that the major problems associated with Space were the cardiovascular effects that manifest in syncopal episodes. However, not much was known about cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes associated with syncope at that time. So in 1991 I published the first observations of cerebral blood flow changes during syncope for aerospace applications

Njemanze PC (June 1991) Transcranial Doppler evaluation of syncope: an application in aerospace physiology. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 62 (6), 569-72

I went further to identify that 50% reduction of cerebral blood flow velocity (CBFV) was associated with syncope

Njemanze PC (December 1992) Critical limits of pressure-flow relation in the human brain, Stroke. A Journal of Cerebral Circulation, 23 (12), 1743-7

In these series some had no drop in blood pressure but they fainted, I then identified that there was cerebral syncope which was not associated with blood pressure drop

Njemanze PC (April 1993) Cerebral circulation dysfunction and hemodynamic abnormalities in syncope during upright tilt test. The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 9 (3), 238-42

It then raised the question on what was mediating the drop in CBFV if it was not the classical Bezhold-Jarish Reflex, I therefore suggested another mechanism that did not involve cardiac reflexes or cardiopulmonary reflexes.

Njemanze PC (March 1993) Isoproterenol induced cerebral hypoperfusion in a heart transplant recipient, Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology : Pace, 16 (3 Pt 1), 491-5

Njemanze PC (1992) Cerebrovascular dysautoregulation syndrome in heart-lung transplant recipient. Journal of Cardiovascular Technology, 10, 227-232

With these activities and those by others, the Neurocardiology applications for Space were firmly established. Then I established a company called Chidicon Inc. USA in Missouri and in a joint contract with McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company we embarked on research on the CBFV changes associated with use of COMBAT EDGE G-Suit and the water suit Atlantis Worrior

Njemanze PC, Antol PJ, Lundgren CE (May 1993) Perfusion of the visual cortex during pressure breathing at different high-G stress profiles. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 64 (5), 396-400

The question was now what arose first?, is it the CBFV changes?, or is it the blood pressure changes?, so one would know which sensor would be most effective to use in avionic systems. I then identified that the first changes were associated with CBFV by as much as a few seconds.

Njemanze PC (April 1994) Cerebrovascular dysautoregulation syndrome complex–brain hypoperfusion precedes hypotension and cardiac asystole. Japanese Circulation Journal, 58 (4), 293-7

I then proceeded to invent the Physiologic G-Suit Modulator (US Par 5121744), which senses the impending loss of consciousness and transfers the autonomy decision making to the autopilot to avert an accident.

Njemanze Philip C. (2005) Asymmetry of Cerebral Blood Flow Velocity Response to Color Processing and Hemodynamic Changes During -6 Degrees 24-Hour Head-down Bed Rest in Men. Journal of Gravitational Physiology, 12 (2), 2005

I then improved on this invention by adding a system that detects CBFV correlates of mental performance (US Pat 6390979). NASA recently funded a system to accomplish these objectives.

In 1995, I responded to a NASA International Announcement of Opportunities for experiments to study the Brain in Space, mandated by the US Congress, called Neurolab. I was successful as one of the NASA Principal Investigators chosen from 8 countries (USA, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Nigeria, Netherlands and Canada). My proposal was on the study of the blood flow of the visual cortex in astronauts. On completion of my involvement in the Neurolab in Houston Texas, an opportunity arose through the Cooperative project of the Center for Health Applications of Aerospace Related Technologies (CHAART) at NASA Ames Research Centre and the Third World Foundation. Though this I became the first international recipient of the award to use Space-based Technology to improve the health of people in developing countries. I wrote an overview of the potential applications of aerospace technologies.

Njemanze PC. (1996) Satellite technology and aerospace related warning systems (STARWARS) for disease control: strategy for disease prevention in developing countries of Africa, South America and Asia-Pacific Region. Japanese Journal of Aerospace and Environmental Medicine, 33, 17-130

To develop this area, I founded the Institute of Space Medicine at Chidicon Medical Center, Owerri, Nigeria. Our specific interest was to develop the application of geographic information system technologies to prevention of water-borne infections in Nigeria. This collective effort of our team led to the development of the first GIS platform for planning water resources.

Njemanze PC, Anozie J, Ihenacho JO, Russell MJ, Uwaeziozi AB (September 1999) Application of risk analysis and geographic information system technologies to the prevention of diarrheal diseases in Nigeria. The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 61 (3), 356-60

However, my principal area of interest remains Neuroscience in Space. My major interest is what changes in brain cognitive function in Space, and what might be the gender differences. ¨

Specifically I asked what happens to facial perception, motor processing, and color processing in Space.

Facial perception

Njemanze PC (2004) Asymmetry in cerebral blood flow velocity with processing of facial images during head-down rest. Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine, 75 (9), 800-805

Motor processing

Njemanze PC (July 2002) Cerebral lateralization for motor tasks in simulated microgravity. A transcranial Doppler technique for astronauts. Journal of Gravitational Physiology, 9 (1), 33-34

Color processing

Njemanze Philip C. (2005) Asymmetry of Cerebral Blood Flow Velocity Response to Color Processing and Hemodynamic Changes During -6 Degrees 24-Hour Head-down Bed Rest in Men. Journal of Gravitational Physiology, 12 (2), 2005

2. What are your areas of research interest and which interesting projects are you currently working on?

I am currently developing non-invasive neurodiagnostic methods for detecting neural processes of memory, feeding, and addiction in the Space environment.

3. As an African with an interest in space activities, what were the challenges you faced?

The major obstacle is lack of funding. I had to establish a personal foundation and raise money from personal sources to support the research at my lab for close to two decades, and I have no regrets. The challenges are still persisting but the outcome thus far has surpassed all my initial expectations. Glory be to God.

4. Did you ever feel that space was too impractical for the African setting?

Not at all, in actual fact Africa needs Space research more than the industrialized World, because the solutions for communication, health, agriculture and others will be attained faster with Space-based Research. That was why in 22-23 Oct 2007, I initiated and organized the first Mission to Mars: The African Perspective in Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria. This achieved many milestones, such as Cassava Research for Mars Mission with JAXA, Japanese Space Agency, Climate Change Theory, Cognitive Neuroscience for Mars Mission and others. Today Nigeria is planning water resources using Space-based GIS and Advanced Risk Analysis Systems.

5. From your experience in space activities which of the things you have came across do you wish you can replicate back in Africa as being of necessity for development?

As you can see from my descriptions, the initiative for disease control actually has its origins in Africa, and has become one of the most successful Space-based initiatives that are finding applications in Africa and other developing countries. In a recent commentary on ‘Water Contamination: The Way Forward’ in the March 2009 Issue of the Indian Journal of Medical Research, I highlighted that the greatest achievement of the next decade and attainment of Millennium Development Goals will be accomplished using Space-based technologies of GIS and Risk Analysis for prevention of water-borne infections. Which I humbly point out was first implemented in literature by our team in Nigeria in 1999.

6. What advice do you have for young Africans seeking to choose a career path in Space-related activities? How can they keep in touch with you and your activities?

Young Africans must be bold and courageous to choose Space Research. As far as they remain true to their calling and sustain interest with hard work, Space will not even be their limit. For those wanting to read about our efforts in Space research please visits us at http://www.chidicon.com.

Posted in Africa, Development, Earth observation, Education, Healthcare, NASA, Space, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Famine and Food Security Forecasting

Posted by Simon Adebola on June 10, 2009

” A stitch in time saves nine ”

That wise saying is the reason why early warning systems are being developed and deployed. The reasons for this and its relevance to African (and indeed worldwide) food security are explained in this article here. As John Haynes, the program manager for NASA’s Applied Sciences Public Health Program notes, “Enhancing public health decision-making through remote sensing, as in the FEWS NET project, is particularly relevant due to the threat of global climate change…Climate change may exacerbate food insecurity in the 21st Century from more frequent episodes of drought or flooding, depending on the region.”

The FEWS NET Project (Famine Early Warning System Network) of which he talks about is a collaboration between NASA and its partners: the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They provide early warning information on various issues affecting food security and famines. The website is worth visiting to learn a lot more about the issues concerned.

Estimated food security conditions, 2nd Quarter 2009 (April-June)  Source: USAID FEWS NET

Estimated food security conditions, 2nd Quarter 2009 (April-June) Source: USAID FEWS NET

The situation in many African countries calls for urgent interventions in matters pertaining to food security but the response need not be hurried with early warning systems such as these in place. Most agricultural practices in the continent are limited to subsistence farming. The changes in land use patterns can be monitored as shown here of the Gishwati Forest in Rwanda. Monitoring land use, agricultural patterns, crop yield, rainfall and other food related factors would help to position governments and policy makers in a better position to make informed choices and evidence-based decisions on matters related to agricultural planning and food security.

Space technologies are crucial in sustaining these decision support systems and there are some collaborations, such as GEOSS, that are already working on this. The coming together of governments, academia, policy makers and concerned parties as part of a global think tank would guarantee the success of such measures as these in preventing the deaths and suffering of millions that suffer annualy from the hardships imposed by droughts, famines and food shortages.

Posted in Africa, Climate change, Development, Earth observation, Global Security, Healthcare, NASA, Satellites, Space, Space science and technology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Polio Eradication and Space Technologies

Posted by Simon Adebola on May 8, 2009

At the last University of Michigan graduation ceremony Larry Page gave the commencement address.

He had this to say about Polio

“In late March 1996, soon after I had moved to Stanford for grad school, my Dad had difficultly breathing and drove to the hospital. Two months later, he died. And that was it. I was completely devastated. Many years later, after a startup, after falling in love, and after so many of life’s adventures, I found myself thinking about my Dad. Lucy and I were far away in a steaming hot village walking through narrow streets. There were wonderful friendly people everywhere, but it was a desperately poor place — people used the bathroom inside and it flowed out into the open gutter and straight into the river. We touched a boy with a limp leg, the result of paralysis from polio. Lucy and I were in rural India — one of the few places where Polio still exists. Polio is transmitted fecal to oral, usually through filthy water. Well, my Dad had Polio. He went on a trip to Tennessee in the first grade and caught it. He was hospitalized for two months and had to be transported by military DC-3 back home — his first flight. My Dad wrote, “Then, I had to stay in bed for over a year, before I started back to school”. That is actually a quote from his fifth grade autobiography. My Dad had difficulty breathing his whole life, and the complications of Polio are what took him from us too soon. He would have been very upset that Polio still persists even though we have a vaccine. He would have been equally upset that back in India we had polio virus on our shoes from walking through the contaminated gutters that spread the disease. We were spreading the virus with every footstep, right under beautiful kids playing everywhere. The world is on the verge of eliminating polio, with 328 people infected so far this year. Let’s get it done soon. Perhaps one of you will do that.”

This is a worthy challenge and one worth pursuing. The latest monthly situation report from the Polio Eradication Initiative showed that apart from Nigeria which is one of the four remaining endemic countries (the others are Afghanistan, India and Pakistan), there are 13 reinfected African countries. Nigeria has been responsible for exporting the virus to most of these countries and also accounts for the majority of the number of polio cases recorded worldwide this year. The eradication of polio even though a worldwide challenge is thus pre-eminently an African imperative.

The use of space technologies in solving this challenge is very important. The curbing of the spread of polio relies largely on immunization campaigns to prevent its transmission. There are routine, supplementary and mop-up immunization campaigns. The planning of these immunization activities requires a lot of scientific and logistic input to make them effective and successful. For example in the event where there is focal transmission as evidenced by Wild Polio Virus transmission followed by Acute Flaccid Paralysis, immediate action is required. This would require continuing active surveillance and also conducting mop-up immunization campaigns in the area, based on the suspicion that many others in the area potentially carry the virus and are capable of transmitting it. This suspected carrier ‘buffer zone’ can be defined with the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation devices and a high resolution satellite image of where the immunization campaign is to be organized can then be downloaded off the internet from various online mapping services. Connecting to the internet is possible, anywhere in the world, with the aid of mobile satellite terminals. Details of the campaign, including the extent of the buffer zone around the reported cases to be focused on, can then be mapped using a Geographic Information System (GIS). The use of GPS, web mapping, GIS, and mobile satellite terminals are some of the space-related technologies that have found use in the logistics of emergency or critical operations all over the world.

This whole process can be accomplished with much ease following adequate planning. Hand-drawn maps can be fraught with various faults that do not befit an activity with this level of high priority to global aims.

John Snow Hand Drawn Map of Soho, London Cholera Outbreak in 1854 (Source: Wikipedia)

John Snow Hand Drawn Map of Soho, London Cholera Outbreak in 1854 (Source: Wikipedia)

An example of a better map designed using freely available satellite imagery is shown below. This map gives a more accurate relationship between areas. It also affords immunisation volunteers to be easily mobilized for deployment into an area by empowering them with better tools to navigate hitherto unknown territory.

Map obtained using Google Maps and enhanced to show routes (Source: Ana Gago Da Silva)

Map obtained using Google Maps and enhanced to show routes (Source: Ana Gago Da Silva)

Posted in Africa, Development, Earth observation, Education, Healthcare, Innovation, Space, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

African Missions to the Moon and Mars

Posted by Simon Adebola on May 4, 2009

Following up on the glad events of the last African Conference on the Mission to Mars, we are bringing today from a standpoint closer to home, views on how to get involved in efforts to bring an African payload to the moon. The 21st century race to the moon has already begun and the last is yet to be heard of who is going to the moon next. Strengthening this expanded view of lunar exploration is the rise in interest from private and commercial space participants. At the forefront of this is the XPrize Foundation which have, in collaboration with Google launched the Google Lunar Xprize (GLXP) which is a 30million dollar prize for the first privately funded team to make it to the moon with a robot which would then travel 500 meters and send video, images and data back to the earth. There are also additional prizes for the team whose payload can accomplish certain defined tasks. It is clear that Africans can complete equally in this. We have some of the best scientific and technological minds in the world. It is not a season to watch and wait.

There is no telling what this is doing to the science of space and lunar exploration. Kids, students, scientists, techies and geeks from all over the world are all combining forces to accomplish these goals. It is amazing how much interest and innovation has been plowed into these efforts and how much more is still underway. In this interview with William Pomerantz, the Senior Director of Space Projects at the X Prize Foundation and who also runs the GLXP, he answers questions on how Africans can get involved in this great opportunity to showcase the uniqueness and brightness of African technological potential. He also talks about the opportunities from the newly launched Healthcare X Prize.

Q: How many African countries have registered teams?

A: We do not yet have any registered teams that are headquartered in Africa. However, we do have members of registered teams who live and work in Egypt and in South Africa.

Q: How many are following up on their registrations?
A: We have not yet had any teams headquartered in Africa file a “Letter of Intent to Compete” or a registration package for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. However, we have heard from a total of about 50 potential teams based in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe. We certainly hope to hear more from Africa in the future, and would be thrilled to get our first ever African X PRIZE team!

Q: What are your thoughts on how you think African engineers can take part in these?

A: One of the nicest things about incentive prizes, including the Google Lunar X PRIZE, is that they attract intelligent solutions from the widest possible range of potential inventors and problems solvers. A prize does not care what your nationality is, what field you have your degree in, or what your CV or university transcript says—the prize only cares about the results. To date, the talent pool of very bright African engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs has been mostly untapped by the traditional aerospace community. We certainly hope that this prize will help change that, and will allow these individuals to demonstrate their capabilities on the global stage.

Similarly, we hope that educators and parents across all of Africa will be able use this prize and the stories of the competing teams as a tool to get young students excited about the possibility of entering careers in aerospace related fields or, more broadly, in careers in science, technology, engineering, and maths. Increasing the numbers of young Africans who chose to dedicate their lives to the pursuit of such careers will have an enormously beneficial impact on Africa—and on the industries that benefit from such an influx of talent.

Finally, we hope that regardless of the nationality of the eventual winners of the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a variety of African countries and companies will be able to take advantage of the new, radically cheaper lunar exploration opportunities provided by the teams competing for the prize. Whereas the cost of lunar exploration to date has made it simply too expensive for most countries in the world (much less most private companies or universities), in the near future, prices will have come down dramatically, putting them on par with a wide range of other scientific companies. We look forward to the day when we all watch the first African-designed payload land on the lunar surface, probably carried by a private vessel designed by a Google Lunar X PRIZE team.

Q: I would also like to know if the Healthcare XPrize is open to international participation?

A: Yes, it is planned that the forthcoming Healthcare X PRIZE will be open to international participation.

Posted in Africa, Education, Healthcare, Innovation, Space, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dust, Dry Days and Disease in Africa 2

Posted by Simon Adebola on April 27, 2009

As a follow up to our earlier post with the same title, this focuses on the evidence to show that Malaria can be tracked using satellite data. Last week saturday was the World Malaria Day and it showed the renewed commitment by the global healthcare community to work towards the control of Malaria using the best scientific means available. The use of technologies such as Space Science and Technology, with the enhanced capabilities they provide for environmental monitoring towards disease prevention, certainly does have a role to play.

Aside from the work of the Group on Earth Observation and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society on monitoring the environmental correlates of Malaria epidemiology, there exist other promising intiatives, some of which are highlighted below.

The NASA Earth Observatory have an interesting article that discusses the experience of mapping Malaria risk in Belize. It highlights the issues faced and gives a preview of what needs to be understood about Malaria and its relationship to the environment and other socioeconomic factors that affect its spread.

NASA Earth Observatory

NASA Earth Observatory

The MARA/ARMA collaboration aims to produce spatial models showing malaria distribution, seasonality and endemicity.



The Kenya Medical Research Centre (KEMRI) have a collaboration with the Wellcome Trust. The KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme sponsor the Malaria Atlas Project in collaboration with researchers from the Department of Zoology of the University of Oxford and other institutes. They study the effect of the environment and climate on malaria linking its endemicity to the different mosquito species causing malaria. They are at the forefront of interpreting the available spatial and epidemiological data in the predictive mapping of malaria to aid disease control and prevention initiatives. Their research publications are very useful resources in understanding the potential of mapping malaria. Their links section is similarly useful. Their map data showing global and country risks for malaria are available here.

Malaria Atlas Project (map.ox.ac.uk)

Malaria Atlas Project (map.ox.ac.uk)

These are but a few of the ongoing efforts to help map the epidemiology of Malaria and Meningitis, to better aid their prevention and control. Space technologies are still the mainstay of such efforts as they give, for example, a view of how dust affects land and sea temperature, sea temperature affects precipitation and drought events and how all these and other environmental and socio-economic factors pool together and contribute to defining the epidemiology of these diseases. These place spatial maps as an invaluable resource in the ongoing global fight against vector-borne and air-related diseases.

Posted in Africa, Climate change, Development, Earth observation, Healthcare, NASA, Satellites, Space | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Boost for Tele-Education In Africa

Posted by Simon Adebola on April 24, 2009

A major use of satellites is in providing educational instruction to remote locations. This is especially important for rural community dwellers. The same satellite-based connections can also support telemedicine and other e-Commerce and e-Government activities. This has been recently provided for African students and communities by the Indian Government’s initiatives in supporting African education, government and healthcare delivery through the Pan-African e Network.


This network would connect 5 regional universities, 53 learning centers, 5 regional Super Specialist Hospital (SSHs) and 53 remote hospitals in all countries of Africa. The Indian contribution includes 7 Universities and 12 Super Speciality Hospitals providing expert domain services through Tele-education and Tele-medicine. This is a major boost and pilot projects are already under way in Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. According to the website, “This network will cover 53 Member States in African Union and provides VSAT based star network with 116 + 53 VSAT terminals equally distributed over all the Members States and a Hub located in one of the African Union Member States.”
You can learn more from, Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL), Pan-African e-Network Project Website

Posted in Africa, Development, Education, Healthcare, India, Satellites, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Few Interesting Posts on Malaria

Posted by Simon Adebola on April 24, 2009

I came across these interesting posts on Malaria. As you know, there are over 297 million Malaria cases anually and about 1 million of these lead to deaths, about 90% of which are in children under 5 years. The World Health Organisation together with its partners are waging an all out war to reduce this huge and debilitating disease burden. Half of the world’s population are at risk. The current challenges include expanding drug availability, increasing the availability and uptake of Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs), and finding a vaccine to aid prevention of the disease.
Enjoy the reads.
Kids treated for Malaria at home get 2x as many drugs
Immune cell offers clue to Malaria deaths
U.S. aims to be a global leader in malaria fight
Doctors welcome Malaria microchip (diagnoses in minutes)

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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.

Posted in Africa, Earth observation, Healthcare, NASA, Satellites, Space science and technology, Technology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

A Concerted Response to M/XDR TB

Posted by Simon Adebola on April 9, 2009

In a recent ministerial conference held in China, convened by the World Health Organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and hosted by the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China, top level representatives from countries with the highest burden of Multiple and Extensive Drug Resistant Tuberculosis gathered to discuss and evolve a strategic plan to combat this threat to global health security.

A definition of those terms are on the WHO website with a brief excerpt here
Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is defined as resistance to the two most powerful first-line anti-TB drugs (isoniazid and rifampicin). Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) is defined as MDR-TB plus resistance to the most powerful second-line anti-TB drugs (any fluoroquinolone and any of the three injectable drugs: amikacin, capreomycin and kanamycin). MDR-TB and XDR-TB together are defined as M/XDR-TB…A high burden country is defined as one where there 4000 or more new cases of drug-resistant TB per year, or where 10% of new TB cases are drug resistant. WHO,2009

Of the 27 Countries with a high burden of the disease, 4 (DR Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa) are in Africa. South Africa together with China, India and the Russian Federation account for 60% of the cases of MDR TB worldwide. The presence of this disease on African soil indicates that a united response by African countries is needed urgently. TB as is known spreads in areas with overcrowding, poor ventilation and other signs of a low socioeconomic status. The occurence of HIV/AIDS and TB co-infection is also a major reason why the disease has grown in the affected countries. Another major factor in its developing resistance to drugs is the poor healthcare systems and their inability to support effective treatment programmes. All these are factors that are faced by most African countries and a decisive repsonse is needed to forestall a crises.

A call for action was released by the STOP TB Partners who met recently in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. The Director General of the WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, also gave a moving speech. Another call was made by the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr Bill Gates,
“Every country should feel the urgency, whether it is suffering from TB or not. Every country is capable of innovation, whether it is has a high-tech economy or not. And every country can adapt its systems to use the best innovations of others.”

This call to use innovative technologies is to be taken seriously as part of our revived commitment to enhance our healthcare delivery systems in order to fortify them for an effective response to TB and other infectious diseases. This includes but is not limited to the strengthening of electronic medical records for managing care and treatment data; the use of mobile technologies in healthcare (mHealth) for treatment monitoring; the use of geoinformation technologies as healthcare decision support tools and in planning treatment and public enlightenment campaigns; and even exploring multi/hyperspectral detectors in providing rapid and sensitive screening of potential carriers of the disease. This is of course to be founded on sound public health and healthcare management practice and also backed up by clinical care and scientific research into better cures, vaccines and evidence-based treatment practice.

There is room for positive global collaboration on this and African countries have a definite role to play. An enduring role that must be played till the scourge is wiped out.

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