For Immediate Release
December 3, 2020
Two Pacific Island Nations to Develop Predictive Models for Dengue
(A vector surveillance team member collecting larvae from a tire next to a school in Saipan, CNMI on May 22, 2018. Photo Credit - Grayson Brown/PIHOA).
(Honolulu, HI) – Predicting dengue outbreaks in the Pacific will be getting a little easier for the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Health care systems in the region have been overwhelmed by dengue, with an estimated 3,500 cases in the RMI and more than 1,700 cases in the FSM. The two Pacific Island nations are set to get ahead of the curve by creating predictive models for dengue, with the support of the U.S. Department of State.

"The development of an early warning system would improve our capacities in preventing future dengue outbreaks and the ability to build a public health response leveraging our available resources," said Linda Chutaro, Environmental Health Manager for the RMI Ministry of Health and Human Services.

The project's outcome aims to give these Pacific Island nations lead time – of weeks or even months – to prepare a public health response to dengue. This lead time would allow FSM and RMI to train vector staff, reduce mosquito sources, test insecticide resistance, and perform outbreak-ready maintenance or procurement of vector control equipment and materials.

"Addressing dengue fever in the Pacific has been highly reactive, relying solely on vector management only when the diseases have turned into outbreaks. By then, the whole public health system is left to respond with unreliable and substandard resources," said Dr. Limb Hapairai, Regional Medical Entomologist, for the Pacific Island Health Officers' Association (PIHOA).

In consultation with the RMI and FSM Environmental Health leadership, PIHOA's Dr. Limb Hapairai will be providing lead technical support, including coordination with other regional and national technical partners interested in supporting this project. As a consequence of the Zika outbreak in 2017-18 and multiple subsequent dengue outbreaks in the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPIs), PIHOA leadership endorsed the USAPI Vector Management Improvement Strategy and Implementation Plan in September 2018 to build regional and local capacity for routine, public health mosquito surveillance and control to limit the spread of vector-borne diseases in USAPIs.  

With support from the FSM national and RMI health leadership, PIHOA applied for and was granted just under $300,000 for the project supported by the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) at the U.S. Department of State. "This project reaffirms our commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, its resilience, and its health security.  We congratulate PIHOA on the award and are eagerly looking forward to seeing this work unfold," said Jonathan Moore, OES Acting Assistant Secretary. 

Dr. Hapairai will collaborate with vector managers in the FSM and RMI to collect and analyze data related to climate, public health, and socio-demographic variables to pinpoint factors that lead to the spread of disease. The group will construct place-based predictive models and engage relevant on-island partners for implementation.

"The outcomes of these predictive models based on climate, public health, surveillance, and socio-demographic data of these two islands (FSM and RMI) could be adopted and implemented as an early warning system against dengue fever in our region," said Rosanna Rabago, Chairwoman of the Pacific Islands Vector Management Council. 

Dengue outbreaks in the Pacific region have been tied to climate variables such as temperature, rainfall, and humidity, as well as extreme weather events.  Thus, models based on climate, health, and socio-demographic variables can help manage the risk of future dengue outbreaks in the FSM and the RMI.  This project will strengthen these countries' capacities to prevent and respond to dengue and other climate-sensitive infectious diseases.

If successful, PIHOA will work to replicate the model across the USAPIs. Regional implementation will be facilitated by the USAPI members of the Pacific Islands Vector Management Council with support from partners, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pacific Southwest Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases, and Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit.

PIHOA currently has three consultant vacancies, a Climate Sciences Consultant, and two Data Assistants, to support this project. Learn more HERE.

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