Early Warning System for Epidemics

Preventing epidemics relies on activating the right countermeasures, and scientists are now trying to find out how better use of forecasting can help. The EU’s EO2HEAVEN project developed a risk map for correlating environmental and health data in order to identify where a disease may break out next.

Scientists are examining the effects various environmental factors have on cholera epidemics in Uganda. As part of this work, the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB in Karlsruhe developed a software architecture for early warning systems that compares environmental and health data and presents the results graphically.

They use sensors to measure environmental parameters such as rainfall, exposure to solar radiation and pH value, as well as temperature and concentration of nutrients in the water. Weather and climate forecasts are also factored into the analysis. At the same time, they use mobile applications to collect health data on cholera cases from hospitals and doctors, such as where patients have been and what their symptoms are. This data is collected and stored – anonymously – on a central server at the health authority in the Ugandan capital Kampala. Using the new software, each case appears as a red dot on a digital map. By correlating this information with the environmental data, scientists can see how fast and how far an outbreak is spreading.

This kind of early warning system can also be put to good use in other areas. As part of their work for EO2HEAVEN, the scientists investigated a further two case studies. In the German city of Dresden, they looked at the relationship between air quality – measured in terms of temperature, Particulate Matter and ozone – and cardiovascular diseases. And in the Durban industrial basin in South Africa, they investigated the correlation between air pollution and asthma.

A total of 10 European and three African companies and research institutions collaborated in the EO2HEAVEN project, which had a budget of 8.7 million euros. Fraunhofer IOSB is implementing the cholera early warning system in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The team is currently looking for additional sponsors and funding sources to advance the solution for widespread use in any affected country.