Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Myanmar testing ground for Nasa tech to forecast malaria



Myanmar testing ground for Nasa tech to forecast malaria

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A big data project in collaboration with Nasa aims to detect the spread of dengue in Myanmar from space. YE AUNG THU/AFP

Myanmar testing ground for Nasa tech to forecast malaria

Nasa is developing a new technique to forecast malaria outbreaks in Myanmar from space, as the emergence of new drug-resistant strains in Southeast Asia threatens efforts to wipe out the deadly disease globally.

The goal of worldwide malaria eradication within a generation, by 2050, is “bold but attainable”, a report released this week in the Lancet argued.

Malaria cases and deaths plummeted by more than 90 per cent in Myanmar between 2010 and 2017, World Health Organisation (WHO) figures show, a success largely credited to better rural health services and wider use of treated mosquito nets.

But the country still has a higher prevalence than its neighbours in the Mekong region.

Several drug-resistant strains are taking hold across Southeast Asia and it is feared these could migrate to Africa where more than 90 per cent of cases globally occur.

To counter this threat, Nasa is deploying “cutting edge” spatial technology to tackle malaria outbreaks before they happen, scientist Tatiana Loboda said.

She is applying her expertise in geo-spatial and risk modelling – coupled with a background in predicting wildfire outbreaks in the US – to identify potential hotspots so medicines and health workers can be mobilised in advance.

“A lot of people use a little spatial modelling . . . but not to the same depth and capabilities as we’re doing here,” said Loboda, a professor at Maryland University.

The satellites provide meteorological data, including land surface temperatures, atmospheric water content and information about land cover, including forest, shrubland, settlements or water.

These are then combined with socio-economic data gathered by teams of researchers carrying out in-depth surveys with sample populations in the field.

The project is only in its third year but Loboda’s team has already seen a high correlation between the rate of deforestation and the disease.

One unproven theory is that these areas – often dotted with logging sites, mines and plantations – are host to a disproportionate number of migrant or seasonal workers, bringing with them new strains of the parasite.

The Maryland University team is working closely with local government and military scientists, collecting data from civilians and troops respectively.

But that brings challenges in a country where the armed forces keep their operations shrouded in mystery.

“We’re not allowed to ask where they go,” Loboda said, describing it as “like working blindfolded”.

This is coupled with a lack of access to Myanmar’s myriad conflict areas.

“I’m used to working with big data,” Loboda bemoaned.

“I want to blanket the whole country with random locations . . . but I can’t.”

The project is not immune to geopolitics either.

The state of US-Myanmar relations can complicate meetings with the military in the capital Naypyidaw.

“Sometimes I can go, sometimes I can’t,” Loboda said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Final verdicts for Khmer Rouge leaders ‘vital’ for next generation

    Nearly a decade after the commencement of Case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan back in 2014, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now set to deliver its final verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state. The Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC,

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Textile industry minimum wage now $200

    The official minimum wage for workers in textile-related sectors including garment, footwear, and travel goods for 2023 was pegged at $198, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stepping in to add $2 to the total, making it $200 per month. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training made the announcement