The International Research Institute for Climate and Society and Google are offering a guided tour of Africa to teach you about the relationship between climate and deadly meningitis outbreaks there. No need to pack your bags, though: it’s a virtual tour, one you can run on Google Earth from your living room.
The climate and meningitis tour is one of a number that Google has launched for the Conference Of the Parties in Copenhagen, Denmark, known as COP15. Al Gore gives the introductory tour, called “Confronting Climate Change”. Google.org will be also hosting a briefing about the tours at the Climate Change Kiosk in Copenhagen’s Bella Center on December 10, 11 a.m.
Through the Google Earth application, users can explore the potential impacts of climate change and some the solutions for managing it.
“The IRI tour integrates real climate data, beautiful imagery and the collaborative narration of a host of climate and health experts,” says Kiersten Jennings Chou, who worked with IRI staff and Google to create the tour. “It is a powerful tool to allow people around the world to visualize the impact of this devastating disease,” she says. Jennings Chou is a former eighth-grade science teacher and recent graduate of Columbia University’s Masters Program in Climate and Society.
Meningitis outbreaks occur yearly in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily in the ‘Meningitis Belt’, which stretches from Senegal to Ethiopia. They place undue strain on the overtaxed health systems of these countries. Every few years, the outbreaks rise to epidemic proportions that have a devastating impact, especially on impoverished communities. In 2009, for example, there have been more than 55,000 cases in northern Nigeria and nearly 14,000 in neighboring Niger, according to the World Health Organization.
The epidemic form of the disease is caused by bacteria that attack the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis kills approximately one in ten of its victims, and leaves many survivors with lifelong disabilities. Despite these tragic statistics, the mechanisms that drive the dynamics of this dry-season disease are still not completely understood. Meningitis can be prevented through vaccination, but in order for the vaccine to be effective, it must be given before outbreaks occur. Researchers at IRI are using their expertise in health and climate forecasting and modeling to try to help decision-makers stay one step ahead of the outbreaks.
To read more about the tour and download a full transcript, visit the IRI web site.