Infectious disease outbreak forecasting systems

As the understanding of these complex causal influences of social and environmental conditions on infectious disease occurrence patterns improves, so the capacity to develop forecasting models will improve. This will be of public health importance - particularly in higher-risk regions of the world where prevention is usually very much better than "cure" (the latter often being unaffordable).

Vector control and public notification remain the only public health response to the majority of vector-borne diseases. Both measures require knowledge of an impending outbreak, and a suitable response time. Climate factors that drive the growth of vector populations and the replication of pathogens have the potential to be used as a proxy for early warning of the probability of an outbreak of disease. The objective is to detect conditions suitable for pathogen amplification in the natural cycle at the earliest possible time so that public health interventions can have the greatest opportunity for success. Climate forecasts will be helpful tools in the public health management of vector-borne diseases, if they can (i) improve the targeting and sensitivity of surveillance and increase the length of the response time, or (ii) reduce the cost of traditional surveillance activities. An interesting recent example comes from research carried out in southern Africa, showing how the empirically derived relationship between observed summer rainfall and subsequent annual malaria incidence can then be used successfully for forecasting malaria incidence in the coming year (Thomson et al., 2006) -thereby providing 6-9 months advance warning for the pubic health and healthcare facilities.

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