Brazilian scientists, UNICEF use technology to predict disease outbreaks after floods

18 April 2019
The Brazilian Lika team in the field
UNICEF Malawi/2019/Eldson Chagara
The Brazilian Lika team in Nsanje district.

Lilongwe, 16 April 2019- Research scientists from Brazil’s University of Pernambuco have arrived in Malawi to explore the use of technology to predict the occurrence of diseases such as cholera, malaria and bilharzia. The exercise, conducted in partnership with UNICEF and Ministry of Health, is in response to floods in the southern region. The research team is gathering data from drone and satellite images, biological sensors and diagnostic information from UNICEF-supported mobile clinics that are treating displaced children and families in camps.

“These diseases are dangerous but after flooding they become even more aggressive. We have a very similar environment and socio-economic conditions in several parts of Brazil. It is important to reasonably predict when and where the diseases will hit to plan and execute timely responses not only in the emergency period but also for continuous disease surveillance after that,” said researcher Dr Evonio de Barros Campelo.

UNICEF partnered with the University of Pernambuco after supporting Malawi Ministry of Health’s visit to the University in January 2019. The team learnt about innovations in health, particularly the use of drone and satellite technologies, biological sensors and telemedicine in predicting and preventing diseases such as cholera.

Director of Quality Management and Digital Health in the Ministry of Health Dr Andrew Likaka says Government of Malawi commends the South to South Collaboration with Brazil. “Considering that the health challenges are similar in Malawi and Brazil, how our counterparts have advanced the use of technology in disease surveillance, prevention and control poses an opportunity for us to engage more. We remain grateful to the people and government of Brazil for such collaboration. We also commend UNICEF for adopting technology in health care, " he said.

UNICEF is also supporting the Government of Malawi in cholera prevention and treatment, by championing better hygiene practices in communities and providing cholera medicines in cholera-prone districts.

“We need to take a step further to predict when and where cholera and other disease outbreaks may occur. This information can inform the Ministry of Health’s programming to fight these diseases. This is particularly important for Malawi because of its vulnerability to floods and drought, which create conditions for diseases outbreaks,” said UNICEF Malawi Representative Johannes Wedenig.

From the mid-1990s, cholera has become more frequent in Malawi. Since 2005, cholera has been recorded every year except two. Although the number of people being affected is not as high as in the past, the last five outbreaks have had a wider geographic coverage. Already in 2019, 13 cholera cases and one death have been recorded, half of them in Nsanje.

Brazilian ambassador to Malawi, Arthur Saraiva de Oliveira, said his Government hopes to strengthen its cooperation with Malawi, in the spirit of south-south cooperation.

“Beyond working with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health to establish disease prediction and prevention as part of disaster response programmes, our researchers also wish to partner with Malawian universities. Brazil faces many of the problems that affect Malawi and has developed solutions that can be used here, where climate and conditions in the countryside and in poor urban neighborhoods are similar. The Embassy of Brazil intends to increase all types of cooperation in the in the coming months and years, focusing on proven solutions that will result in better living conditions for the needy,” he said.

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