Home » Malaria » Using weather data to defeat malaria
Fight Against Malaria 2020

Using weather data to defeat malaria

Hurricane Fani approaches India in 2019. Photo credit: Getty images / lavizzara

Martin Edlund

CEO, Malaria No More 

Mona Hammami

Senior Director, Office of Strategic Affairs, Crown Prince’s Court of Abu Dhabi

The connection between climate and health is undeniable. Changing weather patterns increase transmission risk of mosquito-borne diseases, like malaria. By using data to time and target interventions, we can turn weather obstacles into opportunities. 

A changing climate is a threat to human health. Increases in severe weather events – like cyclones Fani in East India and Idai and Kenneth in east Africa last year – put already vulnerable populations at greater risk by disrupting delivery of life-saving health interventions and treatments. Meanwhile, changes in historical patterns of rainfall, temperature, and humidity influence the timing, location, and severity of climate-sensitive mosquito-borne diseases.  

Using weather data to inform malaria programming and decrease the global burden  

The mosquito is the vector for infectious diseases, including malaria, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika, that infect 340 million people each year. These diseases cause enormous human suffering, economic disruption, and burden already strained healthcare systems in the most vulnerable countries. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge even advanced healthcare systems, the critical importance of harnessing data to combat infectious diseases is more apparent than ever. 

By taking a holistic approach and integrating new data sets like climate, we can change health outcomes in fundamental ways. Understanding the implications and connections between health, climate, and other disciplines will allow us to move towards a more integrated approach to development. 

As global weather patterns change, weather-informed strategies can provide a solution to strengthen efforts against these diseases – and may even be the key to eliminating them. A new initiative, Forecasting Healthy Futures, is exploring how micro-weather data and associated analytics can better prevent, control, and, ultimately, eliminate mosquito-borne diseases like malaria. 

In the global fight against malaria, data helps us find and track the malaria parasite as it moves through human populations, and increasingly granular and timely data is the key to enabling many countries and regions to drive malaria cases down to zero. Data also enables countries to time and target limited resources to where malaria transmission is greatest. 

Of the 10 countries with the highest malaria burdens in the world, India has seen the steepest declines, having reduced malaria cases by more than 50% between 2016 and 2018. For high-burden Indian states like Odisha, success resulted from bridging intensified routine efforts like net distributions, with data-driven strategies by the state government to diagnose and treat malaria in the highest-burden villages before each monsoon season. Integrating weather into malaria planning, Odisha State saw a greater than 80% decrease of cases within just two years. 

In Senegal and Zambia, “Visualize No Malaria,” led by PATH, in coordination with Tableau and National Malaria Elimination Programs, brought data analytics to frontline efforts. This program uses real-time data, new tools, and data-literacy trainings for health workers to develop a broad malaria surveillance system. This novel use of data led to a 50% decline in reported malaria cases across a northern Senegal population of 1.8 million over four years.

Scaling action in the fight to end malaria 

The global effort against malaria has saved over seven million lives and prevented more than one billion cases since 2000, putting the world on a path to end malaria within a generation.   

But too many – especially pregnant women and children under five in high malaria burden countries – are still suffering from this preventable and treatable disease. To win this fight, we may need to look to the weather. 

Insights from our work using data to eliminate malaria can be implemented across other diseases. Combining detailed weather data with hyper-local information on disease burden down to the village level, holds the promise of data-driven health planning. Scaling these efforts, through initiatives like Forecasting Healthy Futures, can turn weather-related obstacles into opportunities for improving the health of hundreds of millions of people.  

Martin Edlund and Mona Hammani are representing two of the organisations that recently launched the Forecasting Healthy Futures initiative to explore how micro-weather data and associated analytics can better prevent, control, and, ultimately, eliminate deadly mosquito-borne diseases including malaria.

Next article