Being able to predict where and when extreme weather and other environmental impacts of climate change will increase the risk of infectious disease outbreaks can help public health officials respond earlier and more effectively to control the spread and reduce its toll.
In fact, early warning systems designed to do just this have been developed in recent years to help control outbreaks of malaria, dengue fever and other diseases in parts of the Tropics. But their implementation has been undercut by funding uncertainties, overburdened local health systems, insufficient training for local health technicians, and a lack of buy-in from decision makers in government.
An analysis by an international team of researchers from 15 institutions evaluates these barriers to implementation and proposes new ways forward. The team published its recommendations Nov. 9 in The Lancet Planetary Health.
One key, the researchers say, is early engagement with crucial decision makers.
“We looked at five case studies and most of the barriers we identified likely could have been resolved by getting policymakers and community leaders on board right from the start,” said William Pan, the Elizabeth Brooks Reid and Whitelaw Reid Associate Professor of Population Studies at Duke University, who was co-lead author of the analysis.
In the case studies, scientists often placed a higher initial priority on getting their monitoring systems, disease-control protocols and local partners in place before turning their attention to briefing national or regional policymakers about it. In hindsight, the problem with this approach, Pan said, is that the local partners who were supposed to take over running the system once it was set up were not necessarily the government decision makers with the authority to commit ongoing financial or political support for it.
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