Application of knowledge-driven spatial modelling approaches and uncertainty management to a study of Rift Valley fever in Africa

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Background: There are few studies that have investigated uncertainties surrounding the scientific community's knowledge of the geographical distribution of major animal diseases. This is particularly relevant to Rift Valley fever (RVF), a zoonotic disease causing destructive outbreaks in livestock and man, as the geographical range of the disease is widening to involve previously unaffected regions. In the current study we investigate the application of methods developed in the decision sciences: multiple criteria decision making using weighted linear combination and ordered weighted averages, and Dempster-Shafer theory, implemented within the geographical information system IDRISI, to obtain a greater understanding of uncertainty related to the geographical distribution of RVF. The focus is on presenting alternate methods where extensive field data are not available and traditional, model-based approaches to disease mapping are impossible to conduct. Results: Using a compensatory multiple criteria decision making model based on weighted linear combination, most of sub-Saharan Africa was suitable for endemic circulation of RVF. In contrast, areas where rivers and lakes traversed semi-arid regions, such as those bordering the Sahara, were highly suitable for RVF epidemics and wet, tropical areas of central Africa had low suitability. Using a moderately non-compensatory model based on ordered weighted averages, the areas considered suitable for endemic and epidemic RVF were more restricted. Varying the relative weights of the different factors in the models did not affect suitability estimates to a large degree, but variations in model structure had a large impact on our suitability estimates. Our Dempster-Shafer analysis supported the belief that a range of semi-arid areas were suitable for RVF epidemics and the plausibility that many other areas of the continent were suitable. Areas where high levels of uncertainty were highlighted included the Ethiopian Highlands, southwest Kenya and parts of West Africa. Conclusion: We have demonstrated the potential of methods developed in the decision sciences to improve our understanding of uncertainties surrounding the geographical distribution of animal diseases, particulariy where information is sparse, and encourage wider application of the decision science methodology in the field of animal health. © 2006 Clements et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.




Clements, A. C. A., Pfeiffer, D. U., & Martin, V. (2006). Application of knowledge-driven spatial modelling approaches and uncertainty management to a study of Rift Valley fever in Africa. International Journal of Health Geographics, 5.

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