SERVIR provides tools to support Malaria-risk predictions in Tanzania

Published: Dec 06 2013
Malaria is transmitted to humans when an infected female Anopheles mosquito bites them, introducing the microorganism that causes the disease into the victim's circulatory system. Infection leads to symptoms that include fever and headache, and in severe cases can progress to coma or death. Between 10 and 12 million malaria cases are reported annually by public health services in Tanzania, and 60 to 80 thousand people die each year there from the disease. Measures to combat the situation have largely consisted of attempting to control existing malaria outbreaks, but SERVIR is helping develop tools that could help officials take preventive measures to reduce the severity of outbreaks. 
Children in Tanzania
Children are particularly at risk of catching malaria © Ann Weru/IRIN

Mosquito breeding grounds include pools, streams, marshes, irrigated lands, and any other places with slow-moving water. Therefore it is important for public health and other officials to know the location and extent of water bodies in their region. 

In addition, officials need rainfall and temperature data because these are major factors in determining where conditions are ripe for Malaria outbreaks to occur. Rain contributes to formation of prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and ambient temperature and humidity affect the growth of the malaria parasite in the mosquito (higher temperatures speed the parasite's growth in the mosquito), increasing the risk for malaria transmission. In Tanzania, however, weather stations for providing rainfall and temperature information for forecasting outbreak conditions are too few and far between to sufficiently cover rural areas. Even where station records of temperature and precipitation are available, data quality may not be consistent, and there are gaps in coverage.  Officials need more complete and accurate rainfall and temperature information. 

An article in The Guardian (see notes that Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) Director General Agnes Kijazi said the use of climate information in controlling malaria along with early warning systems and impact assessment for interventions can make a huge difference. Thanks to a SERVIR Applied Sciences Team (AST) project and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI)-SERVIR Stakeholder Engagement project, which builds linkages between SERVIR-Africa and end-users, Tanzanian officials now have the data they need to map areas in their country at risk for outbreaks of Malaria.

The AST project, called “Development and Implementation of Flood Risk Mapping, Water Bodies Monitoring and Climate Information for Disaster Management and Human Health," is led by Pietro Ceccato of Columbia University. This project is using NASA satellite data to develop water body maps of open water bodies to support monitoring of risks of vector-borne disease – such as malaria –

Ceccato is also involved with the IRI-SERVIR Stakeholder Engagement project, which has helped him find inroads for getting these water body maps as well as other SERVIR and IRI tools and data into the hands of the people who need them. Via both SERVIR projects, Ceccato has established ties with TMA, and the agency has incorporated the SERVIR and IRI products into their newly developed, freely accessible map room, enabling viewers to see climatic information such as rainfall and temperature data at district, provincial, and country levels.

TMA Map Room Landing page

TMA Map Room Landing Page

The TMA Map Room, available here (, provides a consistent source of temperature and precipitation maps and data about the present and the recent past for all stakeholders. The maps combine available ground observations of rainfall and temperature with satellite observations to provide an unprecedented thirty-year time series of ten-daily rainfall and temperature data for every 10 km grid across Tanzania. The Map Room provides user-friendly tools for visualization, querying, and accessing this information.

Under the Climate tab at the Map Room are Climate Analysis, Climate Monitoring, and Climate Forecast.
  • The Climate Analysis Map Room provides information on the mean climate (in terms of rainfall and temperatures) for any point at both national and sub-national levels. It can also show the performance of the rainfall seasons over the years as compared to the mean. 
  • The Climate Monitoring Map Room enables monitoring of the current season. Maps and graphs compare the current season with the mean or recent years. This information can be extracted at any point or for any administrative boundary. Data is updated every ten days, thus enabling close monitoring of the season. Extracting and presenting information at any administrative level enables decision-makers to focus on a specific area of interest. 
  • The Climate Forecast Map Room translates the seasonal forecasts into values that can be easily understood by users. It presents the forecasts in the context of historical rainfall data. This information can be analyzed and extracted at national and sub-national levels.
The TMA Map Room also features a Malaria Historical Analysis tab, which provides access to maps and charts that can help end users forecast malaria epidemics by helping them understand the climate risk of their region. These maps and charts convey malaria-related climate risk by
  • Showing the suitability of the region for malaria transmission based on historical climate records.
  • Comparing current climatic conditions to climatic conditions during a past outbreak.

One of the maps shows the number of months suitable for malaria transmission, based on climatological averages. Suitability is defined as the coincidence of precipitation accumulation greater than 80 mm, mean temperature between 18°C and 32°C, and relative humidity greater than 60%. 

The Country-Average WASP Index shows the time series of 12-month Weighted Anomaly Standardization Precipitation (WASP) index relative to a baseline period. The purpose of this tool is to provide a simple visual means of relating averaged precipitation to a reference period of interest.

It is important to make sure end users who need all of this information can access it easily. Therefore, the IRI-SERVIR Stakeholder Engagement project and TMA held a workshop called “Use of Climate Information in Malaria Stratification/Early Warning Systems/Impact Assessment for Malaria Interventions” to showcase TMA's recently launched Map Room, demonstrate examples of how the maps can be used in combination with other NASA Earth observation products to help pinpoint areas at risk for disease outbreaks, and solicit critical feedback from the health community on their needs for climate, environmental, and epidemiological information, in particular for use in malaria decision-making. 

Workshop participants say they will share the TMA Map Room information with district health management teams, the Zanzibar Malaria Control Program, the Tanzanian National Malaria Control Program, the Ministry of Health, and groups using GIS in Tanzania. The participants also state that the potential benefits of the information include improved targeting of anti-malaria interventions, improved malaria stratification and risk maps, and the development of a malaria early warning system. Many of the participants plan on using the climate forecasts in order to predict hotspots for Malaria outbreaks.

The “Use of Climate Information in Malaria Stratification/Early Warning Systems/Impact Assessment for Malaria Interventions” workshop was convened by TMA, IRI, Columbia Global Center for Africa (CGC-Africa) and Health and Climate Foundation (HCF), with funding and technical support from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and NASA. The three-day event was held in Dar es Salaam, October 16-18, 2013 with confirmed attendance by 33 regional stakeholders.

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