Climate and public-health communities are learning to speak each other’s language to improve decision making. Learn more: Watch a short video that the IRI communications crew put together. We used a Nikon D90 and Panasonic LX-3 for photos and some of the videos. We made the interviews with our trusty Canon Vixia.
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The International Research Institute for Climate and Society and Google are offering a guided tour of Africa to teach you about the relationship between climate and deadly meningitis outbreaks there. No need to pack your bags, though: it’s a virtual tour, one you can run on Google Earth from your living room.
The climate and meningitis tour is one of a number that Google has launched for the Conference Of the Parties in Copenhagen, Denmark, known as COP15. Al Gore gives the introductory tour, called “Confronting Climate Change”. Google.org will be also hosting a briefing about the tours at the Climate Change Kiosk in Copenhagen’s Bella Center on December 10, 11 a.m.
Through the Google Earth application, users can explore the potential impacts of climate change and some the solutions for managing it.
“The IRI tour integrates real climate data, beautiful imagery and the collaborative narration of a host of climate and health experts,” says Kiersten Jennings Chou, who worked with IRI staff and Google to create the tour. “It is a powerful tool to allow people around the world to visualize the impact of this devastating disease,” she says. Jennings Chou is a former eighth-grade science teacher and recent graduate of Columbia University’s Masters Program in Climate and Society.
Meningitis outbreaks occur yearly in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily in the ‘Meningitis Belt’, which stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia. They place undue strain on the overtaxed health systems of these countries. Every few years, the outbreaks rise to epidemic proportions that have a devastating impact, especially on impoverished communities. In 2009, for example, there have been more than 55,000 cases in northern Nigeria and nearly 14,000 in neighboring Niger, according to the World Health Organization.
The epidemic form of the disease is caused by bacteria that attack the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis kills approximately one in ten of its victims, and leaves many survivors with lifelong disabilities. Despite these tragic statistics, the mechanisms that drive the dynamics of this dry-season disease are still not completely understood. Meningitis can be prevented through vaccination, but in order for the vaccine to be effective, it must be given before outbreaks occur. Researchers at IRI are using their expertise in health and climate forecasting and modeling to try to help decision-makers stay one step ahead of the outbreaks.
Read the rest of the story and download the transcript of the tour on the IRI web site.
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Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the Internet search company, has awarded the IRI $900,000 to work with its partners to improve the use of forecasts, rainfall data and other climate information in East Africa, and to build stronger connections between weather, climate and health specialists there so they can better predict and prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases.
The award is part of Google.org’s Predict and Prevent program, which funds projects and technologies that help map “hot spots” of global emerging infectious diseases and develop improved early-warning systems that predict potential disease outbreaks.
Climate plays a critical role in determining the distribution of many of Africa’s epidemic diseases, such as malaria and meningitis. Their transmission is dependent on prevailing environmental conditions such as rainfall and temperature. Year-to-year variations in the amount of rainfall and temperature can therefore change the pattern and timing of epidemics. This makes it difficult for poor countries to plan their public health strategies.
But the link between climate and some diseases means that seasonal forecasts, satellite measurements and other data can be useful in making decisions about how much resources to allocate for an upcoming epidemic season, and when and where to allocate them.
Be sure to dowload a cool new Google Earth layer that shows the locations of each grant project.Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)
This week’s IRI feature…
Earlier this year, an epidemic of meningococcal meningitis swept through the African country of Burkina Faso, infecting 19,000 people and killing more than 1,000 in just three months. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid that surrounds a person’s brain and spinal cord. The disease is one of the most feared in Africa because it infects quickly and kills at a high rate. Those it doesn’t kill often suffer brain damage or deafness. The incidence and onset of the disease in Africa has long been associated with a dry, dusty wind known as the harmattan that blows off the Sahara.
IRI scientists are trying to develop climate models to predict meningitis outbreaks so that health workers can target the timing of immunizations and other interventions more appropriately. Read more about that here.Filed under IRI related | Comment (0)