Supplying Africa with climate data to fight disease

Climatic suitability for
malaria transmission.
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In a Comment to Nature this week, M.C. Thomson et al. make the case that climatological information in Africa is under-supplied to decision-makers, especially in the management of public-health (read it here). They suggest that adequate climate information is in short supply because it is a public good, and the value it will generates is through the improvement of other public goods (such as sanitation).

"Climate information is not readily available, so is rarely incorporated into development decisions. At the same time, few public-health institutions or practitioners are equipped to understand or manage the effects of a changing climate, despite major advances in recent years in alerting the health community to its risks.
A dramatic improvement is needed in the availability of relevant and reliable climate data and services, particularly in Africa, where vulnerability to climate is so high. Information — such as historical observations of temperature, ten-day satellite estimates of rainfall, the predicted start date of the rainy season or the likelihood of extreme temperatures in the coming season — should inform the management of all diseases sensitive to climate. These include: malaria, leishmaniasis, acute respiratory infections, intestinal helminths and diarrhoeal diseases. This information could also contribute to food security by providing, for example, early warning for agricultural and livestock pests and diseases.
The following must be put in place within the next decade: new partnerships between the public-health community and national meteorological agencies, space agencies and researchers; a governance structure that ensures data sharing between public and private agencies; a funding model that builds open-access climate databases; climate scientists focused on the delivery of quality products, tailored to user needs; health professionals trained to demand and use climate information; and evidence of the value of all this, relative to alternative investments in health."
The authors use the example of Kericho, Kenya to make their point clear:
(Blue shading is the number of malaria cases per month)

"That it took a decade to establish a robust analysis of climate trends in Kericho, a focus of so much controversy, points to a broader disconnect between those who need climate information and those who produce it. In the 1980s, African meteorological agencies were encouraged to sell their data to raise revenue to maintain their networks of meteorological stations. The agencies' services have understandably prioritized their primary client, the airline industry. Access for non-commercial purposes, including for malaria research, has been constrained by poor collaboration and high data fees, among other factors. 
Instead, funding models are needed that recognize climate data as a resource for development — a classic public good that increases in value the more times the data are used." 

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