Saving Lives from Space

Lianys Olmeda, Staff Writer

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Cholera is an infectious and potentially fatal bacterial disease of the small intestine that is generally contracted from infected water supplies. The world’s worst cholera outbreak started in Yemen in 2017 and is still an ongoing crisis. According to the World Health Organization, there were more than 1.1 million suspected cases and “more than 2,100 Yemenis, around half of them children, have died from the disease to date” (Bethan Mckernan). Experts of every field have been trying to come up with ingenious solutions to the epidemic. Thus, help has come from an unlikely source.  Through the use of measurements from Earth-observing research satellites owned by NASA, “humanitarian teams in Yemen are targeting areas identified by a NASA-supported project that precisely forecasts high-risk regions based on environmental conditions observed from space” (NASA). In order to calculate the probability of a cholera outbreak in Yemen, the science team uses a computer model that combines satellite pictures and observations of environmental conditions that can affect Vibrio cholerae (the cholera bacteria) with information regarding the infrastructure of clean water and sanitation in the country.

The idea for the disease forecast started in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Months after the natural disaster happened, there was a cholera outbreak that killed thousands of people. Scientists were able to use the information gathered from the crisis and the aftermath of hurricane Matthew in Haiti as well, to create the program that is now being used in Yemen. In fact, the system has proven to be so effective that according to NASA, “in 2017, the model achieved 92 percent accuracy in predicting the regions where cholera was most likely to occur and spread in Yemen that year, even identifying inland areas that are not usually susceptible to the disease but suffered outbreaks.” The hope for the future is global risk maps that will predict cholera outbreaks across the world, much like meteorologists report dangerous storms. In this way, the forecasts would warn people and help them prevent said outbreaks before it’s too late.

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Saving Lives from Space