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February 7, 2015
Paper audits covariate utility for malaria mapping

Weiss at al have published Re-examining environmental correlates of Plasmodium falciparum malaria endemicity: a data-intensive variable selection approach in Malaria Journal. Malaria risk maps play an increasingly important role in disease control planning, implementation, and evaluation. The construction of these maps using modern geospatial techniques relies on covariate grids: continuous surfaces quantifying environmental factors that partially explain spatial heterogeneity in malaria endemicity. Although crucial, past variable selection processes for this purpose have often been subjective and ad-hoc, with many covariates used in modeling with little quantitative justification.

This research consists of an extensive covariate construction and selection process for predicting Plasmodium falciparum parasite rates (PfPR) in Africa for years 2000-2012. The final covariate subset included predominately dynamic covariates and it substantially out-performed earlier sets used by the Malaria Atlas Project (MAP) for creating global malaria risk maps.

This analysis represents the first effort to systematically audit covariate utility for malaria mapping and then derive an objective, empirically based set of environmental covariates for modeling PfPR.