Satellite-based forecasting system launched to fight dengue fever

A worker sprays chemical insecticide in an area with a high risk of dengue fever in Hà Nội. — VNA/VNS Photo Dương Ngọc

As published in
Viet Nam News on 20 March 2019

HÀ NỘI — A dengue fever forecasting Model Satellite-based system (D-MOSS) was launched yesterday in Hà Nội following a joint effort by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and a consortium led by HR Wallingford.

The project, which is funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme, creates an early warning system for Việt Nam, first piloted in Hà Nội, Đắk Lắk, Khánh Hoà and Đồng Nai.

It is also set to clarify the links between environmental stressors, the hydrological-climate system and human health, as well as present people living in high-risk areas with warning of likely epidemics several months in advance.

Through the system, local communities will receive direction on where to focus their efforts to reduce mosquito-breeding sites to prevent outbreaks of dengue.

The system will have other benefits too, such as an assessment module that can help localities improve water management.

Before the D-MOSS system, Việt Nam had no reliable way to predict the probability of dengue outbreaks. Failure to prevent the spread of the Aedes aegypti species – which carries dengue fever – has led to a doubling in the number of infections since 2000.

More than 170,000 cases of dengue fever infection were reported in 2018, resulting in 38 deaths.

The emergence of Zika virus in the region, which is transmitted by the same type of mosquito, means Việt Nam needs an efficient tool to respond to diseases.

Under the D-MOSS project, an early warning platform combining Earth Observation datasets, weather predictions and a hydrological model will be able to forecast likely future outbreaks of dengue fever up to eight months in advance.

The system will take into account water supplies and precipitation that directly affect mosquito breeding sites along with other variables such as the number of dengue cases, land use and temperature.

According to Darren Lumbroso, director of the D-MOSS project, the solution relies on open and non-proprietary software and on flexible deployment into platforms including cloud-based virtual storage and application processing.

“This is the first time a forecast system based on Earth Observation allows decision makers to identify high-risk areas of epidemics to mobilise forces to reduce incidents of diseases,” he said.

Kamal Malhotra, UN Resident Coordinator in Việt Nam, stressed the significance of D-MOSS towards dengue prevention in the country.

“If Việt Nam wants to deal with dengue fever, you will need a multi-dispensary and multi-agencies approach to it and you will need a model which is much better and can predict far in advance when the next epidemic is going to be,” he said. “It also can be responsive in terms of reduction of mosquitoes, weather forecasting and hygiene.”

The lack of joint approaches from the Government and departments, low awareness among the population about the disease and rapid urbanisation are three of the biggest challenges to the implementation of the project in Việt Nam, according to Malhotra.

“It is not only about health data, it’s about water, demographics and land use,” he said. “If we cannot bring it all together, we are not going to be able to benefit from the prediction model.”

The project will end in 2021 and will release its first predictions in June, 2019. — VNS