Digital initiatives to improve predictions of climate-related infectious diseases
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Wellcome will provide £22.7m to support the development of digital tools that will catalyse the next generation of climate-sensitive infectious diseases (CSID) research, the organisation has revealed.
Wellcome, a charitable foundation focused on health research, has announced it will financially support 24 research teams in 12 countries around the world that are leveraging climate data to better predict and prepare for infectious disease outbreaks.
The £22.7m funding is expected to allow these projects to analyse where and when deadly disease outbreaks are likely to occur, helping policy-makers plan ahead.
“The connection between climate change and the spread of infectious disease is often overlooked, or not made at all," said Felipe Colon, technology lead at Wellcome. “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 for local health officials and policy-makers.
“Without these, decision-makers are in danger of finding themselves unprepared, leaving communities unprotected in the face of increasing disease outbreaks, risking the lives of millions.”
A number of the many projects featured in this initiative will be carried out by UK institutions, Wellcome has revealed.
Among these is the University of Warwick, which will work on software that will analyse the impact of climate variability on infectious disease epidemic risks. Meanwhile, the University of Oxford will work on an integrated digital system for dengue outbreak prediction and monitoring.
The University of Liverpool will work on CLIMSEDIS, the Climate Sensitive Disease forecasting tool, while Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine will work on HydroVec, a digital surveillance platform for areas under threat of extreme hydro-meteorological events.
Researchers at the University of Leicester will develop an online app which draws upon health and environmental data to make predictions of zoonotic and vector-borne diseases in policy-relevant ways.
Finally, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (DART) will lead a project looking at water-associated infectious diseases in India.
“Infectious disease prediction doesn’t currently take into account the sizeable impact of climate change and climate variability on their transmission risk," said Professor Rachel Lowe, lead researcher on the IDExtremes project. “In order to accurately and effectively predict and protect against infectious diseases, climate and infectious disease data must be combined.”
She added: “Users will be able to input both observed and forecast climate data, such as drought and flood indicators, and measure their interaction with the urban landscape and socio-economic conditions.
“We will ensure these tools are easy to use and sustainable, even in low-resource or limited IT capacity settings for local agencies, and can be integrated into existing platforms.”
Although most of the projects are focused on specific geographic areas, the findings of these systems and tools should be transferable across the world and help prevent some of the worst health outcomes caused by global warming, Wellcome said.
In October, the Lancet Countdown – an annual report tracking climate change and the impact it has on global human health – said that climate change is exacerbating food insecurity, health impacts from extreme heat, the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and life-threatening extreme weather events.
Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that the world’s pathway to reaching net-zero carbon by 2050 is narrowing and would not be reached without an “unprecedented transformation” of how energy is produced, transported and used globally.
This followed warnings issued over the summer in the UK, as it faced record-breaking heatwaves, that overheating in homes could eventually lead to a tripling in heat-related deaths.
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