UCSF Fields Malaria Tracking Tool Powered By Google Earth


Researchers with UC San Francisco are piloting an online platform designed predict the spread of malaria before it happens, allowing health workers to preemptively strike as they work to suppress outbreaks more quickly. The goal of the program is to provide a tool for local health workers to use to help fight back against a disease that takes the lives of 600,000 people a year, most of which are children.

For years, epidemiologists tracking malaria have noticed that poor countries will defund malaria prevention programs just as they are beginning to take control of the situation, often costing themselves the opportunity to completely eradicate the disease from their country. Hugh Sturrock, PhD, MSc and professor of epidemiology and biostatistics warns, “This can have disastrous consequences, since malaria can quickly rebound, putting years of expensive control efforts to waste. But with these maps, health workers will know exactly where to target their scarce resources. That way, they can keep fighting the disease until it’s eliminated within their borders.”

The predictive map designed by UCSF combines local data captured from health workers in affected countries, and combines that data with real-time weather and environmental data, such as recent rainfall and vegetation levels, to determine the most likely areas that malaria-carrying mosquitoes will travel next.

Local health workers are able to use the map to make informed decisions on when to scale back nationwide prevention measures and instead target regional hot spots. These countries can continue to fight back against malaria, but on a much smaller scale, by providing at risk communities with mosquito nets and continuing to spray insecticide.

The program will be piloted in Swaziland, a small African nation that has succeeded in fighting back against malaria in recent years. Swaziland launched its malaria program in 2008, and is now working to completely eliminate the few remaining pockets of the disease from within its borders. The country will target these final disease clusters with the help of UCSF’s maps.

Google is supporting the novel approach to disease tracking with a $100,000 grant, through its Google Earth Outreach program. In the future, UCSF hopes to expand its predictive capabilities to support multiple diseases.

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