Quantifying Aggregated Uncertainty in Plasmodium falciparum Malaria Prevalence and Populations at Risk via Efficient Space-Time Geostatistical Joint Simulation

PLoS Computational Biology 2010 6(4): e1000724. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000724

Peter W. Gething, Anand P. Patil, and Simon I. Hay

“Risk maps estimating the spatial distribution of infectious diseases are required to guide public health policy from local to global scales. The advent of model-based geostatistics (MBG) has allowed these maps to be generated in a formal statistical framework, providing robust metrics of map uncertainty that enhances their utility for decision-makers. In many settings, decision-makers require spatially aggregated measures over large regions such as the mean prevalence within a country or administrative region, or national populations living under different levels of risk. Existing MBG mapping approaches provide suitable metrics of local uncertainty—the fidelity of predictions at each mapped pixel—but have not been adapted for measuring uncertainty over large areas, due largely to a series of fundamental computational constraints. Here the authors present a new efficient approximating algorithm that can generate for the first time the necessary joint simulation of prevalence values across the very large prediction spaces needed for global scale mapping. This new approach is implemented in conjunction with an established model for P. falciparum allowing robust estimates of mean prevalence at any specified level of spatial aggregation. The model is used to provide estimates of national populations at risk under three policy-relevant prevalence thresholds, along with accompanying model-based measures of uncertainty. By overcoming previously unchallenged computational barriers, this study illustrates how MBG approaches, already at the forefront of infectious disease mapping, can be extended to provide large-scale aggregate measures appropriate for decision-makers.”