Three BSC projects dive into the digital domain to fight against infectious diseases due to climate change

13 February 2023
The Global Health Resilience group of BSC leads two of the granted projects by Wellcome Trust (WT) and partners in another.
  • The WT initiative aims to develop new cutting-edge digital tools to help transform preparedness and response to outbreaks of devastating diseases.
  • Using climate data, these new tools must address the gaps in climate-sensitive infectious disease (CSID) modelling to better protect vulnerable communities from infectious disease threats.

The climate crisis is a health emergency threatening the lives and well-being of communities worldwide in many ways, including the spread of infectious diseases. To advance solutions to address these urgent health threats, the global charitable foundation Wellcome Trust (WT) has recently launched a funding call to support the development of innovative digital tools to model the relationship between climate change and infectious disease.

The Global Health Resilience group of the Earth Sciences Department at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center - Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS), led by Prof Rachel Lowe, is one of the research teams that has obtained funding within this call. The main goal of the WT initiative is to address critical gaps in understanding where and when deadly disease outbreaks are likely to occur, helping policymakers to plan ahead, prepare healthcare systems and increase treatment accessibility and resources, and respond rapidly with targeted and efficient public health measures, saving more lives. With a budget of 25,4 million €, WT will fund 24 research teams in 12 countries worldwide.

The BSC’s Global Health Resilience group leads two of the awarded projects by WT IDExtremes and HARMONIZEand is a partner in a third funded project, Mosqlimate. The GHR group's mission is to apply a transdisciplinary approach to co-designing policy-relevant methodological solutions to enhance surveillance, preparedness, and response to climate-sensitive disease outbreaks and health outcomes.

“Infectious disease prediction does not currently consider the sizeable impact of climate change and climate variability on their transmission risk. In order to accurately and effectively predict and protect against infectious diseases, climate and infectious disease data must be combined,” comments Prof Rachel Lowe. And she adds:This funding will allow us to work with climate service providers, disease surveillance teams, and humanitarian agencies to create an open-source software package to predict the probability of infectious disease outbreaks several months in advance, which could help guide the implementation of control measures more effectively.”

The IDExtremes project aims to develop a user-friendly open-source modelling tool to predict the probability of infectious disease outbreaks, given compound extreme climatic events. The tool is being co-developed with stakeholders in Barbados, Brazil, South Sudan, and Nepal. Users will be able to input observed and forecasted meteorological indicators (e.g. drought, flood, or heatwave), and the tool will predict the probability of outbreaks of climate-sensitive infectious diseases several months in advance (e.g., malaria, dengue, and cholera). It will be integrated into existing climate services, disease surveillance and humanitarian action platforms for decision-makers in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

The other funded project led by BSC is HARMONIZE. With a budget of 3,3 million euros, the goal of the project is to understand better the link between climate change and the increasing risk in the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue, chikungunya, and Zika in the Latin America & Caribbean (LAC) region, where their burden is more significant than anywhere else in the world. The work will be done alongside health ministries and research institutions in Peru, Brazil, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. New observational data measured using drone technology and low-cost weather sensors will be gathered to remove systematic errors and generate more targeted, specific information from wider Earth observation data in areas most relevant for disease transmission.

BSC is also a partner in Mosqlimate, a project led by the Fundação Getulio Vargas (Brazil), which seeks to improve the Brazilian early warning system for infectious disease outbreaks, ‘Infodengue’ (which is already commonly used by policymakers). In collaboration with GHR and the BSC climate services team (within the Earth System Services group), led by Dr Nube González, the tool will integrate seasonal and decadal climate prediction data into the system to estimate future changes in transmission patterns of mosquito-borne diseases.

With this new set of tools, “users will be able to input both observed and forecast climate data, such as drought and flood indicators, and measure their interaction with the urban landscape and socio-economic conditions,” explains Prof Lowe. “We will ensure these tools are easy to use and sustainable, even in low-resource or limited IT capacity settings for local agencies, and can be integrated into existing platforms”, she points out.

All these tools will be developed during the early part of the four-year projects, with later years being used for implementation and evaluation within communities. The software will be open source, allowing researchers and policymakers all around the world to benefit from the tools and support preparations to limit the disastrous impact of climate-related diseases in future.

While these projects will be focused on specific areas, with different geographies presenting different challenges for disease modelling, the fundamentals of these systems and tools should be transferable worldwide. Part of this funding will also include work to strengthen the ‘community of practice’ for climate-sensitive disease modelling to ensure these tools can be successful in the long term.

This piece is based on the Press Release recently published by Wellcome Trust.


  • Photo credit: Gabriel Carrasco-Escobar