Pilot program using weather forecasts to predict meningitis outbreaks

Cheryl Santa Maria
·2 min read
Pilot program using weather forecasts to predict meningitis outbreaks
Pilot program using weather forecasts to predict meningitis outbreaks

Scientists are using weather forecasts to predict meningitis outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa.

The pilot early-warning system by the African Center of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) and the African SWIFT initiative in collaboration with the University of Leeds and the National Center for Atmospheric Science will give health agencies up to two weeks' notice when weather conditions are "highly likely" to trigger a meningitis outbreak, giving precise details on the location and the scale of the forecasted event.

It's an important step in helping curb the impacts of the dangerous viral infection. About 30,000 cases of meningitis are recorded in Africa annually, killing about one in ten infected people and leaving others with disabilities, including brain damage, epilepsy, and hearing loss.

Experts have known for decades about the link between weather and meningitis, and recent advances in weather modelling have made the new project possible.

Dust particles, when picked up by the wind, can irritate people's airways and allow microorganisms into the body, setting the stage for an infection.

NOAA - African dust plume
NOAA - African dust plume

A Saharan dust plume, observed by the NOAA-20 satellite on June 17, 2020. Photo courtesy: NOAA.

"By analyzing factors such as humidity, air quality, temperature,and wind speed, we can map those areas where conditions will be ideal for an outbreak to occur," Dr. Cheikh Dione, lead of the meningitis forecasting project at ACMAD, said via phys.org.

"By getting information out to governments and health teams in advance, we give them a window to get ahead of the disease—and to be more effective in their response."


The project is in support of a World Health Organization to eradicate meningitis by 2030. The data used comes from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, provided to African SWIFT through the World Meteorological Organization's Sub-seasonal to Seasonal Prediction Real-time Pilot Project, which aims to improve long-range weather forecasts.

The roadmap to eradication encompasses a variety of tactics, including vaccine distribution, rapid diagnostics, prevention and control, and support for affected people and their families.