Exclusive: New partnership leverages weather data to tackle mosquito-borne diseases

A fumigation campaign against mosquito-borne diseases in Mumbai, India. Photo by: REUTERS / Francis Mascarenhas

SAN FRANCISCO — Because mosquitoes thrive in warm and wet environments, even a slight increase in global temperatures will result in more mosquitoes and a greater risk of malaria transmission. Now, a diverse group of partners is coming together to explore how weather data and analytics can help defeat mosquito-borne diseases.

“Increasing temperatures and increasingly common extreme weather events are giving the malaria parasite extra ammunition.”

— Dr. Melanie Renshaw, spokesperson, RBM Partnership to End Malaria

With the rise of extreme weather events, there is increased urgency and opportunity for weather data to inform disease program policy and planning, said Martin Edlund, CEO at Malaria No More, who announced the partnership at Devex’s Prescription for Progress event in San Francisco on Thursday. Forecasting Healthy Futures will produce heat maps and dashboards to inform efforts to predict, control, and eliminate mosquito-borne diseases.

Watch the announcement at Prescription for Progress. Via YouTube.

Climate change poses a threat not only to malaria elimination efforts, but also to a broad range of global health priorities. The Forecasting Healthy Futures partnership is an example of a way that partners can join forces to counteract these threats.

How the partnership took shape

“There is a lot of diagnosis of problems at the intersection of climate and health. There’s a lot of hand-wringing about these problems. But we see an opportunity to turn a corner and actually find solutions,” Edlund told Devex ahead of the announcement Thursday.

Already, the state of Odisha, India — where Malaria No More is a technical partner — has used weather data to plan the timing and intensity of malaria intervention campaigns before the monsoon season. As a result, the state has seen an 84% decline in malaria cases over the past two years, Edlund said.

Edlund met Mona Hammami, senior director for the Office of Strategic Affairs in the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, which is a major provider of funds related to neglected tropical diseases, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last September.

The two discussed the idea that data from IBM’s The Weather Company — the world’s leading provider of real-time weather forecast data that had already launched a mosquito index to indicate the impact of temperature, rainfall, and wind speeds on the activity of mosquitoes — could be combined with other datasets to strengthen programs for managing mosquito-borne disease.

Hammami invited Edlund and others with an interest in working at the nexus of climate and health to an event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in November of last year, and it was there that this partnership started to take shape.

The Crown Prince Court, through its Reaching the Last Mile global health initiative, is committing $1.5 million in seed funding over two years, and Hammami said she hopes the project will expand to tackle other mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue and chikungunya.

The partnership, convened by Malaria No More, also includes The Weather Company — which will provide datasets on weather conditions as they relate to mosquito activity and proliferation — as well as PATH, the Tableau Foundation, and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Once the Forecasting Healthy Futures partnership demonstrates the impact of this approach in a few select locations, it will seek more support from donor governments and global health agencies, partners involved in the effort told Devex.

Martin Edlund, CEO, Malaria No More. Via YouTube.

How climate change jeopardizes malaria elimination efforts

The World Health Organization has conservatively estimated that climate change will increase global deaths from malaria by 60,000 each year between 2030 and 2050.

“As we are working towards malaria elimination, and ultimately eradication, the increasing temperatures and increasingly common extreme weather events are giving the malaria parasite extra ammunition,” Dr. Melanie Renshaw, spokesperson for the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, told Devex via email.

Climate change and malaria disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable, but the rise in global temperatures could also mean countries that have eradicated malaria see a return of the disease, truly making this a global health threat.

Country-level data, including weather data, is part of a new approach that WHO and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria have called for to accelerate progress against malaria.

Weather data can help inform the timing of campaigns related to insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual spraying, seasonal malaria chemoprevention, and emergency preparedness and response when increased rainfall and higher temperatures are predicted, Renshaw said.

She added that a multisectoral approach is needed for weather data to make an impact on malaria and other global health priorities, involving global health professionals, environmental experts, country leaders, and others.

Building on learnings

Forecasting Healthy Futures builds on the learnings not only of the work in Odisha, but also the Visualize No Malaria programs that PATH and the Tableau Foundation have partnered on in Senegal and Zambia.

“We have learned how people use data and how we can solve for some of the key pain points in the way national malaria control programs are using information to guide how they distribute resources and act proactively or reactively to diseases like malaria,” said Jeff Bernson, vice president for technology, analytics, and market innovation at PATH.

The Tableau Foundation is providing financial support, software licenses, and training in data analytics and data visualization as part of the partnership.

Previously, the foundation partnered with The Weather Company on a project in Rwanda, which merged weather forecast data with road data to support the rural infrastructure organization Bridges to Prosperity, said Neal Myrick, global head of the Tableau Foundation.

He said he hopes the Forecasting Healthy Futures partnership will engage more private sector actors in the fight against malaria.

The partners seek to work with implementers, including national malaria control and elimination programs and the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, to scale up use of weather data to prevent and control mosquito-borne diseases while also accelerating their elimination.

Edlund said he has two major goals as this partnership moves forward. The first is to test how weather data can accelerate progress in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases, and the second is to demonstrate what partnership between the climate and health communities can look like.

“The conversation about the intersection of climate and health is still pretty nascent,” he said. “If an example like this — one that is data-driven, evidence-based, and innovative — can help inform how other partners in other sectors are thinking about this intersection, we want to do that.”

Update, Feb. 20, 2020: This article has been updated to reflect that Malaria No More served as technical partner to Odisha, India, and to clarify that Mona Hammami is senior director for the Office of Strategic Affairs in the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.

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