NASA Satellites Helping Fight Malaria?

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has many satellites. They observe the Earth from space and have a variety of useful and practical applications. In this article, we’ll explain how they’re helping to fight malaria across the globe.

Malaria

First, let’s talk about malaria. This is a deadly disease that mosquitoes carry and transmit. About 40 different species of mosquito can carry malaria, according to estimates by NASA. Although this is a global disease, many of the infections are concentrated in the Amazon basin.

Worryingly, malaria cases and fatalities have increased recently, according to the World Malaria Report 2016 from the World Health Organization.

Keep in mind!

Female mosquitoes spread malaria to humans when they feed on human blood. They also pass it on to their offspring.

So, what can public health officials do to address this worrying development?

NASA

This is where NASA comes in. NASA and its Applied Sciences Program are funding the Land Data Assimilation System (LDAS). This is a project where the NASA satellites above the Amazon rainforest will track the activities that may attract Anopheles darlingi, the mosquito that hosts the malaria virus. Doing so will allow us to better predict and control malaria outbreaks. 

What are these activities? Mosquitoes breed wherever there are sources of standing water. So the satellites will be looking for environmental factors (rainfall, air temperature, humidity, soil moisture, vegetation growth) that tend to generate those conditions as well as human activities that modify the environment (like logging, for example).

By identifying those areas with conditions most conducive to mosquito breeding, we’ll be more able to predict malaria outbreaks. These areas may be far from human habitation.

Worth knowing!

But, unfortunately, loggers enter the rainforest precisely where there are bodies of water they can use to transport their timber. This is generally how the malaria virus spreads to humans.

In fact, malaria is frequently a byproduct of logging and deforestation. By carefully tracking these activities from space, NASA’s program will be able to forecast malaria outbreaks. They’ll even be able to do this down to household levels, according to NASA officials.

What This Means

The upshot is that by analyzing the data gained from NASA’s satellites, we’ll become better able to predict where malaria outbreaks will occur next. Thus, public health officials can better prepare and coordinate their response by allocating aid to those communities living near mosquito/malaria breeding grounds, for example.

One final question is: how far has the whole project advanced? Well, it’s now in the third and final year of its NASA grant, so it shouldn’t be long at all before the LDAS prediction tools are up and running. Apparently, the Peruvian government familiarizing itself with LDAS as we speak. Other countries in the region, such as Ecuador and Colombia, have also expressed their interest in this project.

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