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Health, Environmental Change and Adaptive Capacity: mapping, examining and anticipating future risks of water-related vector-borne diseases in Eastern Africa

A healthier tomorrow for eastern Africa
Multiple Authors
Khai Duong Van
HEALTHY FUTURES was an international collaborative research project that aims to reduce the future burden of three water-related vector-borne diseases (VBDs) -malaria, Rift Valley Fever (RVF) and schistosomiasis -in eastern Africa (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda).

The project was funded by the European Commission, through the Environment and Health component of the Seventh Framework Programme and involves seven eastern Africa-based partners. The project timeframe wasJan 2011- Dec 2014.


Changing environmental, including climate, conditions can potentially increase the incidence of epidemics through altering the distribution of infectious diseases, thereby possibly increasing contact between such diseases and large populations with little or no infection-immunity. This could place an excessive burden on health and/or veterinary services. Disease outcomes will, however, also depend on a number of other, often interrelated, factors, including:

  • Levels of immunity,
  • The effectiveness of disease control programmes,
  • The abilities of health and veterinary services to respond to warning of outbreaks,
  • Long-term trends in population densities, socioeconomic conditions and processes such as urbanization

Motivated by the knowledge that each year an estimated 2.4 million environmental health-related deaths in Africa are avoidable, and that the effects of environmental change will be felt most acutely by the poorest members of society, HEALTHY FUTURES strives to further understand the relationship between climate and health in eastern Africa. An understanding of links between climate, societal changes and health can help in the prediction, and costing, of the health impacts of climate change, as will increased awareness of the possible health impacts of environmental change.



1) Build partnerships between African and European researchers and organisations in the fields of environmental change, and animal and public health

2) Gain a comprehensive overview and knowledge of the historical, socio-economic and environmental factors of the 3 target VBDs

3) Devise and construct a future disease and risk vulnerability mapping system, and accompanying Decision Support tools to anticipate and respond to early warnings of future outbreaks, and

4) Connect and transfer knowledge to key stakeholders, and the wider scientific and policy-related communities.


Water-related VBDs are not limited in their distribution and effects by political boundaries. As a result, an integrated (i.e. regional and global), multi-national response is required in order to effectively mitigate the negative health and economic effects of environmental change. The choice of eastern Africa as a study area acknowledges the necessity of willingness at all levels of society –including supra-national organisations such as the East African Community –to implement the findings and knowledge gained from scientific research.

A range of altitude- and latitude-related environmental conditions, from extensive relatively cool highlands to hot, lowland coastal plains, and gradients of humidity, from (more or less) permanently humid to arid and semi-arid, are accommodated within the study area. The area also includes large freshwater bodies and extensive wetlands, some of which are only now being exploited for food production. This environmental variability is matched by a rich diversity among human populations, in terms of language, religion, culture and settlement. Moreover, land use and land cover in the area are changing rapidly as a result of population growth and economic development.

Although the immediate geographic focus of HEALTHY FUTURES is eastern Africa, the approach adopted in and the findings of the research are expected to have applications outside the study area.


HEALTHY FUTURES is expected to generate the following outputs relating to the three target VBDs in the study area:

1) Accessible, structured and comprehensive environmental and disease data

2) Improved understanding of links between environment (including climate) and disease

3) Enhanced disease modeling capability

4) Portrayal and assessment of spatial variations in risks of, and vulnerability to, morbidity and related impacts

5) Strengthened early warning systems

6) More effective implementation of policies on climate change and health in the study area

7) Enhanced capacity in the study area through the provision of opportunities for funded postgraduate research, training and networking

8) Publications in high impact science journals.

An Introduction to the HEALTHY FUTURES Project

An Introduction to the HEALTHY FUTURES Project from AquaTT on Vimeo.

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 266327. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Union cannot be held responsible for any use which maybe made of the information contained therein

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