Leveraging big data for public health: Mapping malaria vector suitability in Malawi with Google Earth Engine


April Frake  Brad G. Peter 




Frake, A.N., Peter, B.G., Walker, E.D., Messina, J.P. Leveraging Big Data for Public Health: Mapping Malaria Vector Suitability in Malawi with Google Earth Engine. PLoS ONE 15(8):e0235697.

Publication URL



In an era of big data, the availability of satellite-derived global climate, terrain, and land cover imagery presents an opportunity for modeling the suitability of malaria disease vectors at fine spatial resolutions, across temporal scales, and over vast geographic extents. Leveraging cloud-based geospatial analytical tools, we present an environmental suitability model that considers water resources, flow accumulation areas, precipitation, temperature, vegetation, and land cover. In contrast to predictive models generated using spatially and temporally discontinuous mosquito presence information, this model provides continuous fine-spatial resolution information on the biophysical drivers of suitability. For the purposes of this study the model is parameterized for Anopheles gambiae s.s. in Malawi for the rainy (December–March) and dry seasons (April–November) in 2017; however, the model may be repurposed to accommodate different mosquito species, temporal periods, or geographical boundaries. Final products elucidate the drivers and potential habitat of Anopheles gambiae s.s. Rainy season results are presented by quartile of precipitation; Quartile four (Q4) identifies areas most likely to become inundated and shows 7.25% of Malawi exhibits suitable water conditions (water only) for Anopheles gambiae s.s., approximately 16% for water plus another factor, and 8.60% is maximally suitable, meeting suitability thresholds for water presence, terrain characteristics, and climatic conditions. Nearly 21% of Malawi is suitable for breeding based on land characteristics alone and 28.24% is suitable according to climate and land characteristics. Only 6.14% of the total land area is suboptimal. Dry season results show 25.07% of the total land area is suboptimal or unsuitable. Approximately 42% of Malawi is suitable based on land characteristics alone during the dry season, and 13.11% is suitable based on land plus another factor. Less than 2% meets suitability criteria for climate, water, and land criteria. Findings illustrate environmental drivers of suitability for malaria vectors, providing an opportunity for a more comprehensive approach to malaria control that includes not only modeled species distributions, but also the underlying drivers of suitability for a more effective approach to environmental management.