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Fetenech Meskele Ganebo, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Wolaita Sodo University - Ethiopia was a guest of UniTS for three months as part of a TWAS-SISSA-Lincei Research Cooperation Visits Programme grant. At UniTS, Ganebo worked with Sylvio Barbon Junior, a professor at the Department of Engineering and Architecture (DIA), harnessing the power of machine learning approaches to develop algorithms capable of predicting the spread of malaria.

According to the WHO World Malaria Report 2023, there are an estimated 249 million cases in 85 endemic countries in 2022, with 608,000 deaths. And Ethiopia, as WHO reports, is one of the three African countries that have suffered the most, along with Nigeria and Uganda.

In the high malaria transmission region of Wolaita, a densely populated rural area in southern Ethiopia, data on the spread of the disease is still collected manually. The first task for Ganebo and the Trieste team was therefore to digitise the available data.

‘The three months at UniTS were enough to achieve good results,’ said Ganebo, ‘The collaboration with Prof. Barbon Junior is promising. We have an ambitious plan to automate the collection of health data in the town of Wolaita Sodo and, at a later stage, throughout Ethiopia’. Automation would increase efficiency, accuracy and breadth of useful data, ensuring better patient care.

Once perfected, the algorithms will be used to study the combined effect of risk factors such as temperature, altitude, malaria vectors and population health status to provide health workers and policy makers with more effective predictive tools.

The technique will be used to create a regional surveillance protocol in Ethiopia to support health systems in managing mosquito control and resource allocation.

Ganebo is also the winner of the Spiga di Grano prize, awarded by the Cinzia Vitale non-profit association.

The TWAS-SISSA-Lincei research cooperation visit programme supports early-career researchers in UN-identified least developed countries on projects that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It offers training and collaboration opportunities at the scientific institutions of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia System of Scientific Innovation (Sis FVG) in Italy. It is supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAECI) and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS).

Photo: Prof. Eric Medvet, Prof.ssa Fetenech Meskele Ganebo e Prof. Sylvio Barbon Junior