The development of a climate-based early-warning system to improve the management of infectious diseases, such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea, has received a boost with the signing of a R60 million partnership agreement over five years between South Africa and Japan.

The project, called "Development of an Infectious Diseases Early Warning System for Southern Africa incorporating Climate Predictions in South Africa (IDEWS)", is aimed at helping South Africa's health care system respond more effectively to these infectious diseases. The Lowveld area of Limpopo will be the main research site owing to the high prevalence of these diseases in that area.

Japan and South Africa signed a memorandum of understanding in this regard in May 2014. Over the past two days, researchers and officials from both countries held a symposium to discuss project implementation.

The project is taking place under the auspices of Japan's Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) Programme, which entails collaboration between South Africa, the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). South Africa and Japan signed a science and technology agreement in 2003.

SATREPS aims to promote science and technology cooperation with developing countries through joint research on priority areas such as environment and energy, natural disaster prevention, and infectious diseases. This year marks ten years of cooperation in the field of science and technology between South Africa and Japan.

By the end of the IDEWS project, climate-based infectious disease epidemic prediction models would have been developed.

The DST, the national Department of Health and the Limpopo Health Department represent South Africa in this project, with the country's research consortium led by the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth Systems Science (ACCESS). The Universities of Limpopo, Cape Town, Western Cape and Pretoria, and the Medical Research Council (MRC) are also part of the research team.

Speaking at the symposium hosted by the DST to discuss the project plan in Pretoria on Tuesday, the DST's Director-General, Dr Phil Mjwara, welcomed the project, saying infectious diseases were a serious concern for this country.

Dr Mjwara highlighted the critical role played by knowledge generation in shaping decisions and public policy, and that IDEWS would contribute to South Africa's public health sector."The project will further strategic national objectives around health, capacity building, and technology transfer. It also serves to encourage local researchers to participate in leading international research collaboration programmes such as SATREPS," he said.

Lead researcher, Prof. Angela Mathee of the MRC, said this project would bring together scientists in a wide range of disciplines to use state-of-the-art technology to address fundamental health problems.

"The IDEWS project will also lay the foundation for the adaptations that we as a society need to make to protect our health and that of future generations against extreme weather events associated with climate site2016," Prof. Mathee said.

Prof. Minakwa Noburu from Nagasaki University said that, with the sudden increase in reported cases of malaria in Limpopo this year, this emphasised the importance of IDEWS and expressed gratitude to his counterparts working on this project.

Issued by the Department of Science and Technology

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