Applying Satellite Technology in Detecting and Managing Disease Outbreak
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, satellite technology is becoming increasingly important in the detection and management of disease outbreak. The ability to use satellites to monitor public health means important data can be utilised in a range of ways, such as the development of public policy and direction of government attention to climates, populations and geographical areas more vulnerable to disease.
What Are Satellites Typically Used For?
The deployment of satellites into Earth’s orbit proves incredibly beneficial for those of us on Earth. Satellite technology is widely known for its use in communication, such as the provision of satellite television and facilitation of telephone calls, as well as in navigation, for example, the use of GPS. Beyond this, satellites are instrumental in the monitoring of weather phenomena and climate change. With data collected via satellites, crucial scientific investigations can be conducted.
Satellite Remote Sensing
Investigation conducted using satellite data is necessary in making life easier for those of us on Earth. In order to do this, they carry out remote sensing, which is the collection of data about objects, areas or environmental phenomena using satellite sensors with which they do not have physical contact. Generally, remote sensing is carried out through satellites which orbit the Earth at lower altitudes, approximately 600 – 800 km from Earth. Sensors use electromagnetic radiation reflected from the Earth, either passively by collecting radiation naturally emitted by the Sun, or actively, by emitting radiation itself and collecting data from that reflected by the Earth’s surface. This data is then used to build images of Earth which can be used to observe many aspects of life on the planet. One of these lesser-known observations are the detection and management of global disease outbreak.
Disease on Earth
COVID-19 was one of the most significant global health crises in recent years. While the most impactful by far, the outbreak of COVID-19 was not the only disease outbreak to cause global detriment in 2020. The outbreak of several diseases was recorded, with high case counts leading to a devastating number of deaths worldwide. Illnesses such as Cholera not only took a significant toll on public health in 2020 but has also persisted for longer than COVID-19, demonstrating the plethora of disease which requires detection and management.
How Do Satellites Detect Disease?
There are multiple different types of diseases that can be monitored by satellite technology. Firstly, waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis are closely linked with the monitoring of climate and weather changes, with rainfall and weather disasters directly informing the outbreak of such diseases. With climate change enforcing a rise in sea levels and an increase in the severity of weather disasters, the likelihood of a waterborne disease epidemic is ever increasing. Satellite technology provides researchers the opportunity to draw comparisons between outbreaks in different areas and relate factors present in bodies of water during an outbreak as a means to predict future occurrences.
Satellite technology contributes similarly to the detection of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. Pathogens are transported by vectors and are therefore more likely to infect the public worldwide. This can be effectively monitored by satellite remote sensing which can provide data on factors such as temperature, vegetation, and land cover, all informative in the presence of vectors such as mosquitos and therefore indicative of disease outbreak.
How Does Satellite Data Help Us Manage Disease?
Once data is gathered via satellite remote sensing and used to detect disease, there are a number of ways in which the same information can be employed to manage these diseases. Having detected risk factors for the contraction of specific diseases, satellites can be used to monitor the density of vulnerable populations such as the elderly and the young and in turn, inform public health bodies of where to direct resources. An understanding of the likelihood of disease proliferation across specific populations and geographical areas informs the implementation of appropriate mitigation efforts such as the filtration of water, or lockdown style restrictions as seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, this data can notify public health officials of periods of time when it is especially important to stress public behaviour such as basic hygiene and sanitation. Finally, the identification of patterns in the spread of disease can inform the development of strategies for future outbreaks and variants of the disease. This means the data provided via satellite remote sensing is instrumental in the effective management of future disease outbreaks and can play a large part in the mitigation of disease-related deaths.
LymeApp for the Detection and Management of Lyme Disease
Lyme Borreliosis is a common vector-borne human disease, carried by ticks and most often found in forests and grasslands. Without treatment, LB can cause skin rash, fever, headache, and fatigue, and if left for a long period of time can result impact the joints, heart, and nervous system. LymeApp was developed in direct response to the disease, set to provide maps demonstrating the risk of disease in the user’s location and offering medical advice to those who are affected. The app gathers data from Earth Observation satellites to map the prevalence of the disease in different areas. This offers endless benefits to public health, informing individuals and health care professionals alike of the present dangers of Lyme Borreliosis and the treatment recommended. This of course is just one way in which satellite technology can benefit both the detection and management of disease but is an excellent example of the capability of satellite data in improving human life.
The Future of Satellite Technology in Disease Detection and Management
The rate of Earth Observation satellites being launched into orbit each year is increasing exponentially, meaning access to the data produced by this technology is becoming more accessible and faster to gather. This in turn should result in the rapid recruitment of resources in the fight against dangerous diseases and offer hope that the use of satellite technology will continue to improve in providing those of us on Earth with the knowledge we need to effectively fight diseases such as COVID-19.
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