Understanding the Role of Land Cover/Land Use Nexus in Malaria Transmission Under Changing Socio-Economic Climate in Myanmar

Principal Investigator: 
Tatiana Loboda
University of Maryland College Park

Myanmar is an emerging democracy that bears by far the heaviest malaria burden in Southeast Asia, the region that has been the historical gateway for the global dissemination of drug-resistant malaria. For almost fifty years, Myanmar has been mostly closed to outside influences and economic interactions also effectively isolating the population within the country from international activities aimed at the global malaria elimination. The greater integration of Myanmar into the global and regional economy comes with greater freedom in flow of people across the region, however, this poses a concern regarding the spread of malaria in general and particularly dissemination of ACT-resistant malaria in South Asia. In this study, we propose to examine the role that land cover and use play in determining population exposure to malaria in Ann Township of Rakhine State. As a remote and isolated region with a current high level of endemic malaria and limited access to treatment, this region has the potential to become a notable source of malaria infection across Myanmar and South Asia (particularly towards Bangladesh and India). With the post-election anticipation of a more open society and a greater integration in the country-wide and regional economic activity, malaria control within Rakhine State is a crucial component of a successful malaria elimination agenda in South and Southeast Asia and globally. The major scientific goal of this proposal is to develop a deeper understanding of the malaria exposure and transmission as a function of human activities, land use, and human mobility at various scales for remote rural populations in Myanmar where malaria levels are high. In this study we plan to pursue the major overarching research question: What environmental and land use factors are contributing to the observed differences in malaria presence and prevalence between the villages in Ann Township of Rakhine State in Myanmar? We also aim to make substantial methodological advancements in prototyping components (mapping of malaria-relevant land surface properties at the village scale, observations of changes in environmental conditions at 8-day repeat cycle, and human flow patterns) for an active satellite data-based monitoring system to forecast potential for malaria outbreaks at the high-to-moderate scale in support of targeted malaria elimination agenda in regions of endemic malaria. Specifically, we will develop methods to support integration of multi-sensor data streams into a high-to-moderate resolution monitoring system, that would use data fusion from coarse (MODIS, VIIRS), moderate (Landsat and Sentinel 2), and very high (e.g. WorldView and GeoEye systems) optical and thermal and microwave (Sentinel 1) data to assess dynamic malaria outbreak potential at the village scale. The proposed project directly addresses the first component of the current solicitation aimed at studying the implication of land cover and land use changes in terms of their impacts on the vulnerability of populations in South Asia. This is a highly interdisciplinary project that brings together experts in remote sensing, geospatial analysis, social science and public health to further the global malaria elimination agenda and build the in-country capacity for research and public health management. The proposing team has a wide group of in-country collaborators and will specifically aim to train local Myanmar scientists, promote capacity building, and transfer the knowledge and management of the developed system to local scientists in accordance with the priorities of the South Asia Research Initiative (SARI) agenda.