Computer predicts malaria outbreaks4th October 2010
A computer programme that predict disease outbreaks has provided health experts in East Africa with a new way to fight malaria.
The new prediction model has undergone testing in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in the past nine years.
It combines data on the mating habits of mosquitoes with information about environmental factors, weather predictions and geography.
Officially launched in the Kenyan city of Kisumu in early September, the system can alert warn of possible malaria outbreaks up to three months in advance.
Launched alongside the 26th Climate Outlook Forum for the Greater Horn of Africa, the system will help governments take preventive measures, like deploying mosquito nets treated with insecticide, according to Andrew Githeko, head of the climate and human health unit at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI).
KEMRI developed the model with the Kenya Meteorological Department and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi.
With the programme able to alert officials of impending outbreaks two to three months ahead, the fight against malaria was moving from epidemic detection and management to epidemic prevention, Githeko said.
He said the model had already predicted epidemics with an accuracy of at least 75%.
The model has been in development since 2000 and was funded by a grant from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The UK's Department for International Development and Canada's International Development Research Institute provided additional funding to fine-tune the system and to train people how to use it on the ground.
All of the region's meteorological services departments and national malaria control programmes have been given access to the model and are planning to adopt it.
Previously, governments could only mount a late or no response to malaria outbreaks, according to KEMRI director, Solomon Mpoke.
He said the tool had been automated to make it user friendly for health and meteorological experts from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.
According to the World Health Organisation, forecasting and early warning can reinforce local preparedness and allow authorities and communities to use cost-effective and timely control options to prevent excessive deaths from malaria.
Elizabeth Juma, head of the malaria control programme at Kenya's Ministry of Health, said the programme would be vital in fighting malaria, and would help to reduce malaria deaths.
She called for it to be deployed as soon as possible in affected areas.
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