Weather Forecasts Are Helping To Fight The Worst Cholera Epidemic In Modern History

A predictive map of cholera outbreaks. West Virginia University/Antar Jutla

Robin Andrews 28 Aug 2018, 17:54

In 2017, the war-torn country of Yemen suffered from the largest and fastest proliferating cholera epidemic in modern history, with as many as 50,000 new cases per week. UNICEF estimated that one child died every 10 minutes. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that there were 1.1 million cases and at least 2,300 deaths by the year’s end.

As reported by BBC News, today, there are around 2,500 cases per week. This clearly dramatic change is largely thanks to a new computer system that can accurately predict where outbreaks will occur, allowing medical professionals on the ground to nix them before they get any worse.

The key? Keeping an eye on the weather.

The situation in Yemen has only worsened since the outbreak of hostilities in 2015. Cholera, a waterborne disease, is spreading easier thanks to the violent conflict that’s savaging the country: an already poor sewage and sanitation infrastructure is being destroyed by bombs.

A two-dose, relatively affordable vaccine exists, and various rehydration and antibiotic treatments are available, but getting it to those in need isn’t always easy. Dealing with cholera in countries with poor sanitation alone is troublesome enough, but aid workers in Yemen are constantly risking their lives to do just that.

The Vibrio cholerae bacteria spreads incredibly quickly, though, which makes stemming its emergence and spread incredibly difficult. Having a way to predict where the outbreaks will occur would greatly assist them in their endeavors.

Importantly, cholera is aided by the presence of rainfall. When it’s particularly heavy, it floods the sewage networks, and the disease takes advantage of its enlarged habitat.

This is where this new computer software comes into play, a multidisciplinary marvel developed through considerable international coordination.

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