NASA, Aug 30: For the first time, measurements from NASA's Earth-observing satellites are being used to help combat a potential outbreak of life-threatening cholera. Humanitarian teams in Yemen are targeting areas identified by a NASA-supported project that precisely forecasts high-risk regions based on environmental conditions observed from space.
To calculate the likelihood of an outbreak, scientists run a computer model that takes satellite observations of things like rain and temperatures and combines them with information on local sanitation and clean water infrastructure. In 2017, the model achieved 92 percent accuracy in predicting the regions where cholera was most likely to occur and spread in Yemen. An outbreak that year in Yemen was the world's worst, with more than 1.1 million suspected cases and more than 2,300 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Courtesy: NASA
International humanitarian organizations in Yemen
International humanitarian organizations took notice. In January 2018, Fergus McBean, a humanitarian adviser with the U.K.'s Department for International Development, read about the NASA-funded team's 2017 results and contacted them with an ambitious challenge: to create and implement a cholera forecasting system for Yemen, in only four months. Courtesy: NASA
Elderly woman is treated for suspected cholera infection in Yemen
"It was a race against the start of rainy season," McBean said. The U.S. researchers began working with U.K. Aid, the U.K. Met Office, and UNICEF on the innovative approach to use the model to inform cholera risk reduction in Yemen. Courtesy: PTI file photo
Men are treated for suspected cholera infection
In March, one month ahead of the rainy season, the U.K. international development office began using the model's forecasts. Early results show the science team's model predictions, coupled with Met Office weather forecasts, are helping UNICEF and other aid groups target their response to where support is needed most. Courtesy: PTI file photo