The presence and spread of diseases transmissible by vectors (such as mosquitoes, ticks etc.) depends on diverse and interacting factors such as present distribution, climate, weather and wind patterns, proximity to water bodies, land use and vegetation. Hitchhiking on international trade and travel, foreign species may establish themselves in new environments world-wide if conditions are favourable. Trends such as global warming and land development also contribute to changes in vector distribution. Amongst others, mosquito-borne diseases (Chikungunya, Dengue and West Nile) are an increasing public health concern in many European countries. Pilot projects have demonstrated that it is possible to assess abundances of local species and the risk of arrival of foreign species through modelling of the dependencies between habitat conditions, seasonal trends and in-situ sampling results.
VECMAP aims at assessing the viability of a tool and associated service for automated mosquito mapping and forecasting, integrating earth observation (EO) and satellite navigation assets with modelling, mapping and in-situ measurement techniques. To achieve this, four companies and one public-health agency have joined efforts to develop an integrated software package and a pilot service. The consortium combines their expertise in spatial modelling, the development of spatial information systems and palm-to-web tools, and of EO time-series production chains.
Objectives of the service
The overall purpose of the study is to prove the viability and sustainability of an integrated software package and/or services aimed at producing and delivering risk maps of mosquito presence and forecasts of their spread (potential), based on the integration of Earth Observation data and GNSS navigation technologies with in-situ sampling, terrestrial communication, modelling algorithms and GIS representation tools. Assessed will be not only the technical but also the operational, legal and end-user point of view.
Users and their needs
One class of target users for these maps are public health authorities supported by research institutes at regional and national level. A fundamentally different class of involved users are the public and private mosquito control companies. The VECMAP service will for now focus on these two user groups. As an output of the VECMAP first phase, the demand for data integration at European level has also been confirmed. Response to this particular need will in fact be subject to a separate project. The VECMAP service may eventually be expanded to include other vectors such as ticks and Culicoides (biting midges), as well as the dynamics of vector spreading or infections and disease. Non-European users and private companies such as insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and insecticide producers may eventually be targeted.
Experts and public health authorities in particular the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) agree on the need to develop early warning systems for vector-borne diseases as shown with the recently established VBORNET network. With proper and timely information, effective prevention and control measures may be coordinated. On top of that, some mosquitoes represent a considerable nuisance that requires control. There is a clear need for maps to know where mosquitoes have been detected starting from trap data (point presence/absence and abundance maps), where they could be (spatial distribution maps to fill gaps between the recorded presence/absence and/or abundance ) and when the population and nuisance will peak. This is essential to optimize current surveillance and control networks and to develop these networks where they do not exist yet, in order to prevent or control mosquito-borne diseases.
Service/ system concept
From a sustainability and marketing point of view the consortium will explore the cost-efficiency and sustainability of different types of products and services which may come out of this study. Examples include:
- A commercial fully integrated service provided by a user friendly web-interface, for non-academic GIS users: e.g. national public health or local vector control agencies who want to plan their own activities. This will include a maintenance licence for upgrades and EO time series inputs.
- A full installation of the tool for advanced academic users such as PhD students and research groups.
- A full service, i.e. VECMAP "Service Mode", where the consortium acquires data and generates tailored outputs: e.g. a private company or international public health agency needing access to risk assessment maps and spatial analysis outputs.
Space Added Value
The space assets used are:
- Earth observation: to provide environmental data (e.g. land surface temperature, vegetation, land use) to be used in spatial distribution models based on both Low/Medium Resolution Remote Sensing data for eco-climatic envelope and High-Resolution Remote-Sensing data for landscape and habitat
- Geo-localisation: for geo-localising ground data, e.g. mosquito traps or origin of disease cases as well as for field inspectors/teams to locate/control the areas at risks and for accurate follow-up of control operations.
- SatCom may be considered for dedicated in-situ sensors that provide real-time environmental status info required by mosquito control users.
The VECMAP service is based on combination of inputs from field work (in-situ samplings and measurements) and Earth Observation (EO) data (vegetation, land surface temperature, moisture, water bodies etc.). The in-situ data entered into a palm-to-web terminal is geo-referenced by GNSS and transferred to a central database using mobile communication technologies. In this manner the field work can be done remotely, effectively and independently. The raw EO data (e.g. narrow band optical and infra-red imagery) are pre-processed to generate habitat indicators such as the vegetation index. The VECMAP software product's algorithms correlate and cross-calibrate both sets of results and generate spatial and temporal predictions of presence and abudance. Depending on the user's needs a variety of graphical representations and interactive research is made possible through the engine for the Geographical Information System (GIS)-environment.
The VECMAP Feasibility Study ran from November 2009 to April 2011 and has been successfully completed. The disease vector mapping support system has been prototyped and the planned services, based on operation of this system, have been conceptualized. The technical feasibility and viability have been demonstrated and a business plan has been developed.
VECMAP activities have been continued into the VECMAP Demonstration Project.