HR Wallingford leads new UK Space Agency project to help predict dengue fever outbreaks

According to the World Health Organisation, dengue fever, which is found in tropical and sub-tropical climates around the world, poses a global health issue, with half the world’s population now estimated to be at risk from this mosquito-borne viral infection. The infection causes a flu-like illness, which can develop into a potentially lethal complication known as severe dengue. HR Wallingford, based at Howbery Business Park, is leading a new project using Earth Observation technology, and funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme, to develop an early warning system which will help to predict dengue fever outbreaks in Vietnam.

In 2016, there were over 120,000 cases of dengue fever in Vietnam. This new project will develop innovative tools to help forecast future dengue outbreaks which will help public health authorities to mobilise resources to those most in need. The same methods could also be used to forecast outbreaks of Zika, which is transmitted by the same type of mosquito, and which has recently begun to be reported in Vietnam.

In the course of the project, Earth Observation data will be combined with health and water availability information to understand how environmental factors influence the likelihood of future dengue epidemics. These include water availability, land-use and climate, since more rain, rapid urbanisation, and higher temperatures can all promote the breeding of the virus-carrying mosquitoes.

Darren Lumbroso, Technical Director in the Water Management Group at HR Wallingford, said: “We are delighted to be leading this ground-breaking project where, for the first time, an Earth Observation-based forecasting system will allow decision makers to identify areas of high risk for disease epidemics before an outbreak occurs, in order to target resources to reduce an epidemic spreading and to increase disease control.“

The ‘Integrated dengue early warning system driven by Earth Observations in Vietnam’ project is funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme and led by HR Wallingford, working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Met Office and Oxford Policy Management in the UK, and with the following international partners: the United Nations Development Programme, the World Health Organisation, the Vietnamese Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Climate Change, the Pasteur Institute Ho Chi Minh City, and the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Vietnam.