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Researchers convinced satellites are helpful in tracking epidemics

The amount of data acquired by satellites is increasing at an exponential rate, and researchers are learning about the value of this data in fighting epidemic outbreaks as a result of the ESA's Epidemio project.

"I was negative about the role satellites could play in addressing epidemics, but now I am positive," Penelope Vernatsou of the Swiss Tropical Institute in Switzerland said. The ESA-funded Epidemio project was developed in January 2004 to illustrate the benefits of remote-sensing data for studying, monitoring and predicting epidemic outbreaks.

By using data which focuses on a region's landscape rainfall, vegetation, water bodies, elevation, dust mapping and temperature researchers are able to pinpoint climatic conditions which are favourable for harbouring various epidemic hosts, indicating where people are at greatest risk.

As the project draws to completion, epidemiologists and data users gathered in Frascati, Italy, at the 'Earth Observation in Epidemiology Workshop', on 8-10 March 2006, to report on how Earth observation (EO) has benefited the field of epidemiology.

Ghislain Moussavou of the Gabon-based International Centre for Medical Research (CIRMF) began studying Ebola haemorrhagic fever, which can cause runaway internal and external bleeding in humans and apes, in Congo and Gabon in hopes of spotting particular environmental characteristics associated with infected sites.

Combining ESA Envisat satellite data, under the Epidemio project, on water bodies, forest cover and digital elevation models (DEMs) with field results, Moussavou and his team were able to link the epidemic with dryness and drought.

Moussavou said determining these factors will allow officials to tell the villagers in the area that current conditions for transmission are high, and that they need to take extra precautions. "Because there are no medicines to prevent or cure Ebola, predictions and prevention are necessary."
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.dacunto@esa.int
39-069-418-0856
European Space Agency
13-Mar-2006


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