There are about 1,400 infectious diseases, some of which are among the most important causes of death in developing countries. Half of the world's population lives in affected areas. Malaria alone infects up to 300 million persons each year, killing almost one million. The consequences of climate change play a role in the transmission of many infectious diseases. Ultimately the impact of all climate change threats to the environment, economy and security will be on human health. To combat epidemics with coordinated responses, there is a need to establish an integrated global alert system.
In recent years, information derived from Earth observation and meteorological satellites in combination with GIS and GNSS has increasingly been used to study disease epidemiology, enabling increased use of spatial analysis to identify the ecological, environmental and other factors that contribute to the spread of vector-borne diseases by locating "hot spots", monitoring disease patterns and defining the areas that require disease-control planning. Data collected by satellites and validated by fieldwork are extensively used in tele-epidemiology (or landscape epidemiology) application for monitoring changes in disease patterns and delineating risk areas. Such data products, when incorporated in a geographic database, could be used to develop spatial models for combating infectious diseases by helping to predict high-risk areas before outbreaks occur. The Programme on Space Applications assists developing countries in making use of space-based solutions to fight the spread of these diseases.
Another major aspect addressed by the Programme is in the area of telehealth and telemedicine. Telehealth and telemedicine applications embrace computer and telecommunications technologies, including satellite communications, to bring medical experts into virtual contact with patients or doctors in remote and rural areas, thus avoiding a costly relocation to hospitals in urban areas, which could prove detrimental to the patients' health.
Some recent activities organized by UNOOSA in cooperation with Member States, specialized agencies and intergovernmental organizations in the area of application of space technologies to the global health included the following:
• UN/Burkina Faso/WHO/ESA/CNES Workshop on the Use of Space Technology in Tele-health to Benefit Africa (May 2008, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso).
• UN/India/ESA Regional Workshop on Using Space Technology for Tele-Epidemiology to Benefit Asia and the Pacific Region (October 2008, Lucknow, India).
• Workshop on Applications of Tele-health to Service Delivery in Public Health and Environment (July 2009, Thimphy, the Kingdom of Bhutan).
• UN Symposium on Space Technology Contribution to Infection Surveillance and to the Health-related MDG Goals (September 2009, Verona, Italy).
• UN/Canada/ESA Workshop on Tele-epidemiology Contribution to Public Health Actions in the Context of Climate Change Adaptation (June 2011, Montreal, Canada).
• UN/Islamic Republic of Iran Regional Workshop on the Use of Space Technology for Human Health Improvement (October 2011, Tehran, Iran).
• International Expert Meeting on "Improving Public Health through Space Technology Applications: An Open Community Approach (OCA)" (July 2012, Bonn, Germany).
The Programme continues its support to UNISPACE III Action Team 6 follow-up initiative for open community approach in tele-health and tele-medicine, and has collaborated with University of Koblenz-Landau of Germany and National Institute of Health of El Salvador in organizing the International Expert Teleconference on "Improving Public Health through Low Cost Technology and GPS Tailored Access to Risk Assessment and Resources" which took place from 28 to 29 October 2013 and was organized as a virtual meeting connecting in real time over the Internet experts from El Salvador, Canada, Germany, India, Sri Lanka, Austria and South Africa.
The Programme also provided advisory assistance and financial support to Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE) of Argentina for organizing the Third Advanced School for Training in Landscape Epidemiology held from 27 May to 07 June 2013 at the Mario Gulich Institute for Advanced Space Studies in CONAE Space Center, Cordoba, Argentina. This training programme was organized with objective to enhance the use of space tools in landscape epidemiology, and support provided by the Programme helped national space agencies and research and academic institutions from developing countries in the region to benefit from participation in this event.
In the year 2014, Programme organizes the United Nations/International Astronautical Federation Workshop on Space Technology for Socio-Economic Benefits (September 2014, Toronto, Canada), which will discuss space technologies, applications, information and services that contribute to sustainable economic and social development programmes, with a primary focus on tele-health and tele-epidemiology. The Programme also organizes International Expert Meeting on the International Space Station Benefits for Health, to be held from 19 to 20 February 2014 in Vienna, Austria, at the margins of the Fifty-first session of Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of COPUOS.
The Programme also provides its expertise and assistance to WHO for developing a Global Platform on Air Quality and Health, and in January 2014 it has taken part in the first consultation meeting on technical and organizational framework of this project.
The Action Team on Public Health (action team 6) was officially created in 2001 to follow up the implementation of this recommendation. The Action Team's mission was defined as to foster the implementation of telehealth for developing countries and improve public health services by facilitating the application of space technologies in early warning of infectious diseases.
Following this mandate, the Action Team addressed the following issues, which were initially proposed by the Office for Outer Space Affairs:
(a) Facilitating the development of national policies for utilizing broadband services and data in developing countries in order to support health surveillance and data acquisition for that purpose;
(b) Applying space-based data to develop an early warning mechanism capable of predicting public health threats and alerting authorities in a timely manner;
(c) Facilitating the provision of or access to capacity-building and training in the field of tele-epidemiology.