Collaboration between universities and NASA leads to the development of a life-saving app
Bethlehem, PA, July 8, 2021: Today, Moravian University announced that a multidisciplinary team of scientists, led by Sonia Aziz, associate professor of economics, has developed an application for smartphones, called CholeraMap. This work was funded by Resources for the Future under the aegis of the Valuables consortium – a collaboration with NASA to measure how satellite information benefits people and the environment. This novel research initiative combines satellite remote sensing data with ground observations to assess and predict the risk of cholera outbreak in vulnerable populations in Bangladesh. The team includes Ali S. Akanda, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Rhode Island, Emily Lambright-Pakhtigian, assistant professor at the School of Public Policy at Penn State University, Kevin Boyle, professor of agricultural and applied economics at Virginia Tech and S.M. Manzoor Ahmed Hanifi, scientist at the International Center of Diarrheal Disease Research in Bangladesh.
“It is incredibly exciting to bring data from a satellite in space to a resident of a remote village in Bangladesh,” said Sonia Aziz, associate professor of economics at Moravian University. “With CholeraMap there is great potential for populations at risk to anticipate and to ward off a dangerous pathogen.”
According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that every year 1.3 to 4.0 million cases of cholera occur worldwide, resulting in up to 140,000 deaths. The disease is transmitted by water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Incidence is most prevalent in developing nations in places with a scarcity of clean water due to inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation, and inadequate hygiene.
Environmental conditions also play a significant role. In Bangladesh, where the team of scientists are testing the app, cholera is seen throughout the year. It becomes more widespread during the dry season (February through May), due to lack of safe water and also in the coastal areas, when salt water, rich with V. cholerae, intrudes into inland freshwater bodies. During the monsoon season (June through September), heavy rains damage clean water sources and sanitation infrastructure, and flooding spreads contaminated water – leading to a second outbreak in fall months.
CholeraMap was developed by the team of Ali S. Akanda, in collaboration with villagers in Bangladesh. The app uses data on environmental conditions in Bangladesh gathered from NASA satellites to determine the risk of cholera in sub regions of the study area. That risk information is transmitted to villagers’ smartphones and is displayed on a map of the region, with green areas indicating low risk, yellow signaling moderate risk, and red warning of high risk. A spatial representation of the risk in the region, along with users’ households geolocated on the map, allows the villagers to visualize the situation in their own and nearby areas to assess the risk of contracting cholera.
“CholeraMap allows us to reach the masses in the developing world directly with cholera early warning,” commented Ali S. Akanda, assistant professor and graduate director of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Rhode Island. “I am excited about the prospects of expanding it to other affected regions.”
CholeraMap provides a detailed explanation of the risk level, using innovative graphics and risk communication protocols. Based on the risk level, the app also provides recommendations on how to prevent cholera, such as boiling water before use, not swimming or fishing in bodies of water, and not rinsing fruits and vegetables with water that may be contaminated. Given the increasing prevalence of smartphone technology in low and middle-income countries, and rapidly affordable costs, information provision through CholeraMap offers a low-cost way to reach vulnerable communities in the developing world.
Field testing of CholeraMap and its efficacy in helping to prevent cholera is underway and will continue throughout 2021. Final results will be published early in 2022.
If CholeraMap proves successful in remote Bangladesh, the app can potentially scale across broad areas of the globe and help save lives among vulnerable populations.
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University of Rhode Island
About Moravian University
Moravian University is the nation's sixth-oldest university, located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and offers undergraduate and graduate degrees that blend liberal arts with professional programs. For more than 275 years, the Moravian University degree has been preparing students for reflective lives, fulfilling careers, and transformative leadership in a world of change. Moravian University is a member of The New American Colleges and Universities (NAC&U), a national consortium of selective, small to mid-size independent colleges and universities dedicated to the purposeful integration of liberal education, professional studies, and civic engagement. Visit moravian.edu to learn more about how the Moravian University focus on education for all prepares its students for life-long success.
About the University of Rhode Island
The University of Rhode Island is a competitive and highly regarded public institution in New England and beyond. Founded in 1892, the University of Rhode Island is the principal public flagship research and graduate institution in Rhode Island, with 14,500 undergraduate students and more than 2,250 graduate students across 203 academic programs. At URI, you will find some of today’s leading innovators, discoverers, and creative problem solvers. Visit uri.edu to learn more.