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Using climate to predict infectious disease epidemics

This report from the WHO assesses the potential for creating early warning systems for vector-borne disease. It reviews the current state of research for several diseases such as dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria and West Nile virus.

The report includes an algorithmic framework for developing early warning systems, outlining data requirements and the different components of the system. It also contains two useful tables: one on the sensitivity of different infectious diseases to climate; and one summarising the existing research, identifying in which region the disease is most common, data availability and proposed actions.

A key problem in developing early warning systems, as highlighted by this report, is that non-climatic risk factors such as population immunity and food security strongly affect the potential for a disease outbreak. Equally challenging is the poor disease surveillance in many developing countries — the authors call on these countries to strengthen these systems, to help in the fight against climate change.

The report concludes that it will be important for researchers not to design these systems in isolation — health policymakers should be included at all stages of the design.