Math Model to Predict Malaria Outbreaks in Africa

Jun 18, 2012 | Lauren Edmundson | Research & Policy

Researchers from Ethiopia and Norway have created a mathematical model that can predict a malaria outbreak up to two months before it actually occurs.

The computer program, called Open Malaria Warning, uses hydrology, climate, and weather data, as well as information on land use and mosquito breeding patterns to pinpoint where and when outbreaks will occur. Further, the model could also be used to determine which prevention methods will be most effective depending on what factors have caused the outbreak.

The team of researchers has tested the model against past data and observations from real-life outbreaks. However, they have yet to test the model during a large outbreak of malaria. 

This malaria predictor model is the first of its kind. Previous models have been unsuccessful because they oversimplified the complex combination of variables that lead to an outbreak. 

Researchers developed this model specifically for the African context. Of the 655,000 deaths from malaria that occurred in 2010, 91% occurred in Africa. The disease is the second-leading cause of death among infectious diseases in Africa after HIV/AIDS. With this new model, officials will be able to implement prevention strategies and respond more effectively to malaria outbreaks.

The malaria predictor model would need to be edited before it can be used in other regions outside Africa. In 2010, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria around the world.

Malaria is a disease, transmitted from person to person by mosquitoes, that causes flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills. While malaria treatments do exist, people are not always able to access the appropriate medications when they need them.

Because mosquitoes breed in water, their population is greatest after the rainy season. For this reason, malaria infection rates follow a seasonal pattern.

The WHO encourages malaria prevention by limiting exposure to mosquitoes and controlling the insect population. The WHO also recommends that individuals protect themselves against mosquito bites by using insecticide treated nets and by spraying indoors.

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