NASA scientists report on new technology to help protect US troops from infectious diseases

December 11, 2008

Representatives from NASA convened in New Orleans today to report at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting the results from a NASA-enhanced computerized system to assess environmental and health concerns for deployed U.S. forces. The Global Situational Awareness Tool (GSAT), developed and operated by the Air Force Special Operations Command, is a computerized set of linkable databases that characterizes and predicts health risks and other dangers to U.S. troops and multi-national forces in Afghanistan and other areas.

The enhanced GSAT will monitor malaria prevalence and estimate future outbreaks by using epidemiological time series and meteorological and environmental factors measured from NASA earth-observing satellites.

A prototype spatial compartmental model has been developed to simulate disease transmission among individuals and households under the influence of meteorological and environmental factors. As testing is done and data are collected, results will be provided to NASA's partners at the Department of Defense and Afghan public health organizations. Previously, NASA conducted similar work with the GSAT system in Southeast Asia in collaboration with the Department of Defense and local authorities.

"An accurate characterization of malaria risk is critical when U.S. personnel are deployed overseas. For example, during the 2003 Liberia peace-keeping operation ("Operation Shining Express"), approximately one-third of U.S. military personnel were affected by malaria," says John Haynes, Program Manager of Public Health applications for the NASA Applied Sciences Program. "Conversely, over-prescribing malaria chemo-prophylaxis in areas of low malaria risk is harmful due to the medication's side effects."

With an enhanced GSAT program in place, the U.S. Air Force gains a computerized environmental and medical planning capability. The combined capabilities of the malaria assessments with GSAT provides the Air Force, the Department of Defense, and its partners with a decision support tool valuable to the U.S. military and civilian sectors. Because U.S. overseas forces generally assist the local public health organizations in disease prevention and control, the enhanced GSAT also benefits the local populations.

Source: American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

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