Malaria No More, The Weather Company in joint initiative in Odisha

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on August 12, 2020

To support national drive against mosquito-borne diseases

Malaria No More India, a non-governmental organisation with operations in India, and IBM and its subsidiary The Weather Company, have jointly unveiled a ‘Forecasting Healthy Futures’ initiative aimed at improving health outcomes and accelerating India’s progress against deadly mosquito-borne diseases.

Malaria No More (MNM) envisions a world where no one dies from a mosquito bite, and supports India’s drive to eliminate malaria by 2030 by working with partners at the national level to mobilise necessary political will, funding and innovation. The global initiative will focus first on Odisha, according to Sanjeev Gaikwad, Country Director for India, and Himanshu Goyal, India Business Leader, The Weather Company, an IBM Business.

Leveraging tech, data

The initiative will leverage technology and weather data to target effective health interventions in the face of changing weather patterns and increased frequency of extreme weather events. Mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria, dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever and Zika, are a major global health challenge affecting 340 million people annually, with the world’s most marginalised populations disproportionately impacted.

Convened by MNM, it features a unique group of global health, technology and public sector partners coming together to develop weather data-informed strategies and policies to improve health outcomes and accelerate progress against malaria and other deadly mosquito-borne diseases. By harnessing weather data, governments and partners can turn weather obstacles into opportunities.

Forecasting Healthy Futures has been instituted globally with seed funding from 'Reaching the Last Mile', a global health initiative of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, which also will provide technical expertise from across its networks. In addition, PATH is supporting the development and integration of critical data systems and dashboards to enable decision making; the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation brings in programmatic and policy expertise; and the Tableau Foundation is providing additional financial support, software licenses and training.

Odisha, a model State

Gaikwad said that Odisha has shown tremendous progress in timing interventions to seasonality and being proactively prepared for extreme weather events, thereby mitigating the impact of disease outbreaks that typically follow. “Odisha’s innovative testing-and-treatment campaigns have demonstrated the power of timing and targeting routine interventions to seasonal events like the arrival of the monsoons, and the State government was successful in preventing disease outbreaks following Cyclone Fani that hit the state in 2019,” he added.

Himanshu Goyal, India Business Leader, The Weather Company, an IBM Business, said, that as substantiated by The Weather Channel’s ‘Mosquito Index’, weather has a strong influence on the activity of mosquitoes, which in turn, impacts the prevalence of malaria and other deadly mosquito-borne diseases. As the Covid-19 pandemic puts a strain on our healthcare infrastructure, it becomes even more crucial to arrest the spread of diseases like malaria.

“With the ongoing monsoon season expected to continue to be wetter-than-normal at 108 per cent of average rainfall, it is essential to have a system ready to closely monitor malaria and create deep insights to help stakeholders make better decisions. Forecasting Healthy Futures initiative is thus a great instance of using technology and weather data for the good of society and proves its potential to benefit healthcare, pharmaceutical and other industries,” Goyal added.

Boosting data systems, strategies

Mona Hammami, Senior Director, Office of Strategic Affairs to the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, said: “In order to tackle mosquito-borne disease eradication faster, we need to focus on innovations that take a multi-disciplinary approach, leveraging the intersections between health and areas like technology and climate change to bring fresh voices into the conversation.”

To help improve public health, the initiative partners will strengthen data systems and strategies by integrating micro weather and mosquito population data sets with existing disease risk, intervention coverage, supply chain and epidemiological data sets. A dashboard and use cases will help Odisha inform their malaria intervention strategies in the coming year.

Village-level intervention

The various partners will also work closely with national and state vector-borne disease control programs in Odisha and other malaria-affected regions across the world, as well as donor governments and global policymakers, to identify research needs around the impact of changing weather patterns.

The initiative builds on MNM India’s capacity working with the government to extend Odisha’s success in the last few years in which they used innovative malaria intervention strategies at the village level timed to weather. Until recently, Odisha stood apart with India’s highest malaria burden. The State recorded a 90 per cent drop in malaria cases over the past three years.

Published on August 12, 2020

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