Mosquito-borne diseases such as Malaria, Chikungunya, Dengue and West Nile fever are a persistent public health concern in many European countries. VECMAP is a service assisting national public health agencies and regional mosquito controllers in predicting vector-related health risks and in reducing spread of disease.
It enhances and simplifies traditional distribution modelling, field and laboratory work with the help of satellite navigation and Earth observation. The VECMAP Demonstration Project is the result of a feasibility study which was successfully concluded in 2011. The prototype developed by the Feasibility Study is the basis of the VECMAP service platform being developed and evaluated by the Demonstration Project.
Objectives of the service
Ongoing worldwide trends such as intensified global traffic of people and goods, climate change and changing land development patterns increase the risk for the introduction, establishment and/or spread of diseases. Of these, vector-borne diseases (i.e. diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, etc.) are prime candidates due to their strong link with the environment and the ability to expand rapidly across natural boundaries.
Examples of disease vectors and the diseases they transmit to people, pets or livestock include:
Mosquitoes: zika, chikungunya, dengue, malaria, West-Nile fever, Rift Valley fever;
Ticks: Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis (TBE);
Sandflies: leishmaniasis, sandfly fever (several viruses);
Biting midges (livestock): bluetongue, Smallenbergh virus, African horse sickness.
FIGURE 1.1: VECMAP The Movie
Though essential for their control, often surprisingly little is known about where and when these vectors occur and how many they are.
VECMAP® addresses this problem head on by providing a seamless system and service that integrates the entire process of collecting field data and producing risk maps into a single package that can be used by a wide range of research professionals who need to map the distribution and abundance of species in relation to their environment.
Users and their needs
VECMAP customers are research groups and public/private decision makers involved in spatial risk assessments and with a need to map the spatial distribution of species with a link to the environment (vectors, hosts, pathogens) as part of their decision making process. Application domains include (but are not limited to): Entomology, Vector-Borne Diseases, Epidemiology, Public Health, Ecology, Biodiversity, Agriculture and Forestry.
Obtaining high quality field information is notoriously costly and time-consuming. These costs can significantly be reduced through combining cost-efficient sampling strategies, remote sensing and spatial modelling techniques to compute risk maps of vector presence and abundance, as well as maps indicating high-risk zones for the establishment of exotic species at a local or regional level. Such maps then serve as a basis for targeted surveillance and spatial risk analysis, as a first step to efficient prevention and control.
Vector borne diseases are of increasing concern to planners and decision makers in Europe. To meet this concern, Public Health, academic and commercial practitioners need to provide maps of vector distributions allowing them to assess associated disease risks and plan accordingly.
Producing these risk maps is a complex process, involving field sampling of the vectors to provide data needed to calibrate the statistical distribution modelling that delivers the risk maps. The modelling itself needs additional inputs extensively processed and standardised EO imagery.
In order to be able to carry out these procedures most Users will need them to be available as a user friendly and closely integrated set of utilities and components, supported by extensive technical backstopping from qualified technicians. VECMAP satisfies these needs, and also ensures that the cost effectiveness is optimised.
VECMAP will therefore enhance the planning capabilities, and preparedness for vector borne diseases in the EU.
Service/ system concept
VECMAP® is a software package with 4 components (Administration, Mobile APP, Laboratory data entry, GIS) that follows the ‘one-stop-shop’ principle in 7 operational steps:
- Managing the teams by assigning tasks and responsibilities to team members;
- Defining and planning the field sampling strategy;
- Collecting field samples and entering data using a mobile application;
- Identifying the collected specimens in the lab and entering the data in the central database;
- Monitoring the progress of field activities through automated reporting;
- Conducting exploratory spatial analyses on the gathered information about absence, presence an abundance of the species one needs to map;
- Building area-wide (country, region, continent) spatial distribution and abundance models using standardized remote sensing and other environmental data sets, typically at a 1km pixel resolution.
FIGURE 1.2a: Four components
FIGURE 1.2b: Seven steps scheme
- Type of product: software package operated by the customer and linked to a common central database
- Customers: academic community (various segments) needing to model the spatial distribution and abundance of species
- Operational setting: region, country or continent
- Required resolution: pixels of 1km or less
- Database: central secured
Space Added Value
Space assets are an essential element of VECMAP®: Satellite Navigation (SatNav) and Earth Observation products (EO).
SatNav systems provide the means to efficiently locate and travel to the vector field sampling sites to collect the distribution data that calibrates the statistical distribution models. It is an essential tool for implementing and monitoring the field surveys.
EO imagery is needed to construct the statistical models that underlie the distribution maps produced. Main data sources are Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites with multispectral products available for the entire earth on a daily basis and at a spatial resolution of 1km or less. Typically, annual time-series are Fourier-processed to extract seasonal fingerprints.
VECMAP's unique benefit is to offer a "One-Stop-Shop" integrating all the tools needed to produce spatial risk maps from sampling to modelling and data processing and archiving, improving cost effectiveness and providing extensive technical support to the Users.
As far as is known to the consortium there is currently no other similar integrated system on the market: individual components which achieve only part of what VECMAP offers, are available, but these are usable by a very restricted set of specialist technicians, often only those who developed the individual utilities in academic or corporate settings.
VECMAP is thus an enabling system that will allow more stakeholders to directly produce and evaluate the risk posed by disease vectors and their potential spread. It will also allow existing practitioners to be more cost effective, and extend their activities to new areas or at the least maintain them in an era of declining economic resources.
VECMAP consists of both software and supporting services. The system includes three integrated software components: smartphone based field sampling and data collection; statistical distribution modelling; and a centralised GIS information system and database. It incorporates two major space assets: satellite navigation and earth observation (narrow band optical and infra-red imagery) processed to provide environmental indicators such as climatic seasonality and vegetation index.
The first component implements the field sampling that establishes the vector distributions. It provides the means to design, execute and plan the logistics of field sampling campaigns using smartphone data entry applications alongside SatNav (GPS) navigation technology, using web or network data transfer to link to a centralised database for archiving and storage. In this manner the field work - often the most expensive element of such work - can be optimised and cost-effectiveness substantially enhanced.
The second component is the distribution modelling software fed by the VECMAP field sample data and using a wide range of innovatively processed Earth Observation data which are produced by the consortium and provided as a standard or premium service depending on the product license. Higher resolution vector habitat models are also available as an extra service.
The third component is the Information System, which is the glue that integrates all the VECMAP components and provides access to all the required supporting data as well as the means to display and analyse final mapped products. Depending on the user needs a variety of graphical representations and interactive research is made possible through the engine for the Geographical Information System (GIS)-environment.
Diseases transmitted by vectors like mosquitoes or ticks are an increasing public health concern in Europe, yet relatively little is known about the distribution of diseases or the vectors that transmit them to humans. As a result, effective strategic planning for control in the event of an outbreak is impossible.
There are well-established techniques for mapping vectors or the risk of spread, as inputs to surveillance and control strategies. They are however complex, involving field sampling, statistical distribution modelling, and extensive satellite image processing. They are therefore available to only a few specialists and are not generally accessible to the wide range of public health, research or commercial organisations which could use the risk maps produced.
VECMAP directly addresses this problem by providing a seamless One-Shop-Stop integrating the entire process of producing risk maps into a single package for a wide range of practitioners, either on their own or supported by a consortium of acknowledged leaders in the field.
The VECMAP® software was developed by a consortium of three partners:
- Avia-GIS NV, Zoersel, Belgium: initiator and consortium leader.
- ERGO, Oxford, UK: partner specialized in spatial modelling and remote sensing time series.
- MEDES, Toulouse, France: partner specialized in mobile applications.
VECMAP® has been established thanks to a fruitful cooperation with ESA-IAP throughout the feasibility study and the demonstration project, with involvement of users from different countries in Europe: seven users from five countries were involved at the feasibility study stage and twelve users from ten countries at the demonstration stage. Timely access to post processed Satellite Imagery through a user-friendly environment was assessed as the key success criteria for VECMAP, delivering value for money to the involved pilot users.
Following the successful demonstration project, Avia-GIS started the commercialisation of VECMAP which is offered in three flavorous:
- VECMAP® Lite, a free version for students, disseminated through the www.vecmap.com website and VECMAP on-tour workshops;
- VECMAP® Premium, is the solution for research groups needing to coordinate their activities;
- VECMAP® Expert, is the solution for individual researchers;
- VECMAP® Tailored, are à la carte projects and partnerships.
In May 2016 Avia-GIS NV obtained 500KEuros investment capital (debt) to start the commercial deployment of VECMAP® in Europe. This allowed Avia-GIS NV to prepare for commercial upscaling (bridging the valley of death) and to achieve a series of market entry sales. Currently the Company is in its second investment round.