Epidemiological mapping has been used for centuries. To give an example, John Snow, the father of epidemiology, created a map to determine the cause of the 1845 cholera outbreak in London, United Kingdom. The mapping allowed him to discover contaminated water as the source of the outbreak.
Despite a century of practice, epidemiology has still not changed much. The advancement of technology; however, has enabled scientists to track disease outbreaks with greater efficiency. Among many options, space technology is one method used these days to track disease outbreak, including water-borne diseases.
As millions of people continue to die from these infectious diseases, particularly in developing countries, public health specialists continue to work to reduce or eliminate disease outbreaks in these regions. Public health is also threatened by climate change. Epidemiological data from various sources indicate a linkage of each extreme weather events and infectious disease outbreaks (Khan, M.D., Thi Vu, H.H., Lai, Q.T., & Ahn, J.W, 2019). These specialists are not only developing vaccines and medication to tackle the disease outbreak, but some are now using satellite technology as well.
Yemen is one such country that is currently facing a humanitarian crisis where many people are affected by malnutrition and diseases, such as childhood pneumonia, malaria, high blood pressure, and diabetes (Sharp, 2017). The country also recently endured the worse cholera outbreak in history. Cholera is a bacterial disease caused by food and water contamination. The disease is a global health issue, especially in developing countries with limited access to clean water.
NASA Earth-observing research satellites have proven to be effective in tracking the recent Yemen cholera outbreak (Thompson, 2018). The forecast device was utilized to predict the risk of the outbreak in each region (Cole, 2018). The environmental data monitored include precipitation, air and ocean temperature, and the measurement of phytoplankton concentrations in nearby coastal ocean areas (Cole, 2018; Thompson, 2018). In the end, the model turned out to be 92% accurate in predicting outbreaks during the season. However, the country continues to suffer from outbreak as less than a half of the health facilities in the country are accessible as of 2016 due to several factors (Sharp, 2017).
Humanitarian organizations have been using these data to distribute hygiene and cholera treatment kits, as well as promoting proper hygiene to prevent the spread of the water-borne disease (Cole, 2018). Furthermore, data collection through satellites is beneficial, because the conflict and political instability make it difficult for researchers to collect ground data (UN-Spider, 2018). As the situation hopefully eases with time, scientists and environmentalists can drill clean water wells and provide necessary sanitation while educating the communities on healthy living.
Moreover, space technology can also be effective in measuring climate variation. Climate change remains a critical issue that has, across the globe, affected many people over the years. Extreme weather events are rising worldwide due to the anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases. Stresses on the climate are not only causing many impacts on Earth’s surface temperatures but are also altering rainfall patterns; a rise in the sea level; and floods and increased frequency and severity of storm surges, heat waves, and drought (World Health Organization, 2017; Pendergrass, Knutti, Lehner, Deser, & Sanderson, 2017). In return, climate change has affected many communities globally through agriculture-related economic losses, increased incidences of vector-and-waterborne diseases, difficulties in access to clean water, and loss of livelihoods.
Experts from various organizations predict that climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths from infectious diseases, including water-borne diseases, in the year 2030 (World Health Organization, 2017). Marginalized groups, such as children, women, and the elderly, will be highly affected by climate change. Space technology can contribute to monitor diseases, as well as to carry out the assessment of the vulnerability of communities to climate change. Governments and scientists worldwide should continue to invest in space technology in order to detect disease outbreaks related to or caused by climate change. Such an investment will not be limited to solving health related problems, but it can benefit the search for solutions of many problems humanity faces.