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ICTP Malaria Project

EU-funded research looks at climate/health interactions

ICTP is taking part in a major international, European Union-funded project to help fight malaria and other vector-borne illnesses by developing and deploying an early warning system for disease outbreaks in Africa.

The €3 million project, titled "Quantified Weather and Climate Impacts on Health in Developing Countries (QWeCl)", unites climate experts with health professionals to develop a computer model of climate and disease interactions that will aim to provide reliable forecasts of epidemic disease outbreaks. The forecasts would allow health workers and planners to react in a timely manner to reduce the severity of the outbreaks.

"The QWeCI project hopes to provide predictions of malaria several months ahead of current methods, giving countries affected by outbreaks ample time to implement disease-fighting strategies," said ICTP scientist Adrian Tompkins of the Centre's Earth System Physics section, who co-designed the project with the University of Liverpool.

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. It causes nearly one million deaths a year, mostly among African children. Climate plays a key role in how vector-borne diseases such as malaria and Rift Valley Fever develop. The research aims to develop a better understanding of how climate change in Africa, including extreme events like droughts and floods, affects these vector-borne diseases.

Combining state-of-the-art models for climate and diseases, the EU project will develop an integrated decision support system that can present monthly, seasonal and decadal climate-health interactions to national health planners. "The system would be the cornerstone for health early-warning systems," said Tompkins.

An important and unique component of the project will be a pilot study in Malawi that will use a low-cost, wireless network developed by ICTP's Aeronomy and Radiopropagation Laboratory (ARPL), headed by Sandro Radicella, to collect and disseminate malaria outbreak information between remote health clinics and a central hospital. "QWeCI is the first project that will test the potential of this technology to centrally monitor disease and infection rates, as well as to disseminate health forecasts," said Radicella.

Research partners include:
Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics University of
Liverpool (UK); Centre de Suivi Ecologique (Senegal); Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (Spain); European Centre for Medium-Range
Weather Forecasts (UK); Fundació Privada Institut Català de Ciències del
Clima (Spain); International Livestock Research Institute (Kenya);
Institut Pasteur de Dakar  (Senegal); Kwame Nkrumah University of
Science and Technology (Ghana); University Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar
(Senegal); University of Malawi (Polytechnic & College of Medicine);
Universitaet zu Koeln  (Germany); University of Pretoria (South Africa)


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