Case study: Dr Rachel Lowe

Dr Rachel Lowe is a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, her research is supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund.
Modelling the impact of global environmental change on vector-borne disease risk

Globalisation and climate change have created new opportunities for the spread of mosquito-transmitted diseases like dengue and Zika viruses. Dengue has increased dramatically in the past 50 years and half the world’s population is now at risk from infection from mosquitoes. This is due partly to climate change, but also to international travel, which has allowed humans to carry the disease to new areas.  Many developing countries do not have sufficient financial or human resources to deal with this emerging public health issue.

Dr Lowe’s research aims to help public health authorities predict epidemics of diseases by understanding the relationship between climate, human activity and mosquito-transmitted infections.  Using statistical and mathematical models, the research helps to predict how environmental and socio-economic factors alter disease risk in space and time. 

Vector control is extremely costly and current operations are not sustainable. This worrying situation highlights the urgent need for robust scientific solutions to address this global health challenge. Dr Lowe’s research will provide public health decision-support tools to build resilience against environmental and socio-economic changes.  Understanding how risk varies geographically is crucial in allowing resources to be allocated more efficiently by targeting interventions to the most vulnerable areas.

In the future Dr Lowe hopes that early warning systems for mosquito-borne diseases in developing countries will improve national level planning to allocate funds for specific prevention and control interventions to the most at risk areas.  Early warning of outbreaks will improve the timely allocation of human and financial resources, ultimately reducing government spending and improving the wellbeing of millions of people around the world.

The Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship came at the perfect time for Dr Lowe “In 2015 I was at a crossroads, expecting my first baby and looking to transition from an early career to independent researcher.  After hearing my news, a dear friend and colleague informed me of the fellowship scheme and encouraged me to apply. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity for scientists with caring responsibilities to develop independence and begin to form their own research group”.