Digital tools to use climate data to better predict infectious disease outbreaks

New digital tools will use climate data to better predict and prepare for infectious disease outbreaks.

Wellcome supports global research to address these urgent health threats, with funding for 24 research teams in 12 countries around the world.

Researchers will develop digital tools to model the relationship between climate change and infectious diseases.

Funding of £22.7m will enable these projects to analyze where and when deadly disease outbreaks are likely to occur, helping policy makers to plan ahead.

It will also allow them to prepare health systems and respond quickly with targeted and efficient public health measures, saving more lives.

Felipe Colón, technology leader at Wellcome, a charitable foundation focused on health research, said: “The connection between climate change and the spread of infectious diseases is often overlooked, or not made at all.

“This has resulted in a critical shortage of tools that model the relationship between climate change and disease outbreaks, and those that do exist are often complex and not accessible to local health officials and policy makers.

“Without these, decision makers are in danger of being unprepared, leaving communities unprotected in the face of escalating disease outbreaks, putting the lives of millions at risk.”

Professor Rachel Lowe, from the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and Principal Investigator of the IDExtremes project, said: “Currently, the prediction of infectious diseases does not take into account the considerable impact of climate change and climate variability on their risk of transmission.

“To accurately and effectively predict and protect against infectious diseases, climate and infectious disease data must be combined.”

It added: “Users will be able to input observed and forecast climate data, such as drought and flood indicators, and measure their interaction with the urban landscape and socioeconomic conditions.

“We will ensure that these tools are easy to use and sustainable, even in environments with limited IT capacity or low resources for local agencies, and that they can be integrated into existing platforms.”

While the projects will focus on specific geographic areas, the findings from these systems and tools should be transferable around the world.

Several of the projects will be carried out by UK institutions, including the University of Warwick, which will work on software that analyzes the impact of climate variability on the risks of infectious disease epidemics.

The University of Liverpool will work on CLIMSEDIS, the weather-sensitive disease forecasting tool, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine will work on HydroVec, a digital surveillance platform for areas under threat from extreme hydrometeorological events.

Meanwhile, the University of Oxford will work on an integrated digital system for the prediction and monitoring of dengue outbreaks.

Researchers at the University of Leicester will develop an online application that draws on health and environmental data to make predictions of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases in policy-relevant ways.

The Plymouth Marine Laboratory (DART) will lead a project looking at waterborne infectious diseases in India.

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