Hotspots of Health Risks in Sub-Saharan Africa
To help decision makers target resources to areas of Sub-Saharan Africa where they are needed most, USAID is supporting a hotspots mapping initiative to identify places where the potential for weather variability and climate change pose the gravest threat to human health.
Combining analyses of vulnerability to disease with climate and weather projections, the mapping initiative will identify areas where investments in prevention and early response are most likely to have the greatest payoff in reducing health risks.
“Putting all this information together will allow us to zero in on places in Sub-Saharan Africa where diseases could have especially disastrous consequences, while also helping us prioritize and formulate proactive risk management plans,” said USAID’s Tegan Blaine. “This approach will enable USAID and other development actors to target risks transparently and objectively, based on the best available evidence.”
Climate is an important factor driving disease evolution. Understanding climate trends and their relationship to outbreaks enables public health officers to focus on areas where health risks are expected to change the most. Climate adds additional stress, compounding existing pressures on vulnerable systems, populations and regions.
Important variables linked to vulnerability—such as access to health care and malnutrition rates—will be mapped, along with climate and weather factors like El Nino Southern Oscillation events, extremely hot days, droughts and floods. Severe weather events such as droughts and floods in particular could reverse decades of successful health interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Given resource constraints and the magnitude of health challenges already in play, donors and decision makers will gain a leg up if they understand the ways in which a more variable and changing climate interacts with health.
By drawing attention to regions that are particularly vulnerable, and providing intelligence on where to target finance options in the health sector, the mapping initiative will shed light on the most appropriate investments to strengthen health systems for specific regions.
For example, in areas where the current risk of malaria is low but future weather and climate may catalyze spread of the disease, interventions might focus on improving predictive capability, building awareness and developing the capacity of the health workforce to detect these risks early.
Early warning systems help anticipate disease outbreaks and provide valuable time to put interventions in place. Knowing when and where diarrheal disease risks may increase, for example, can inform stocking of oral rehydration kits in local health care centers or help target awareness campaigns that promote safe water and sanitation practices to reduce transmission of diarrheal pathogens.
A focus on proactive risk management in the health sector rather than simply responding to the latest disease outbreak will lead to better use of existing resources and benefit the most vulnerable populations.
ATLAS is undertaking this analysis with USAID support. Results are expected later this year.
Fernanda Zermoglio is the Adaptation and Vulnerability Specialist for the ATLAS project.