A Spatio-temporal Approach to Short-Term Prediction of Visceral Leishmaniasis Diagnoses in India

18 Oct 2019
E. S. Nightingale, L. A. C. Chapman, S. Srikantiah, S. Subramanian, P. Jambulingam, J. Bracher, M. M. Cameron, G. F. Medley


The elimination programme for visceral leishmaniasis (VL) in India has seen great progress, with total cases decreasing by over 80% since 2010 and many blocks now reporting zero cases from year to year. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is critical to continue progress and avoid epidemics in the increasingly susceptible population. Short-term forecasts could be used to highlight anomalies in incidence and support health service logistics. The model which best fits the data is not necessarily most useful for prediction, yet little empirical work has been done to investigate the balance between fit and predictive performance.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We developed statistical models of monthly VL case counts at block level. By evaluating a set of randomly-generated models, we found that fit and one-month-ahead prediction were strongly correlated and that rolling updates to model parameters as data accrued were not crucial for accurate prediction. The final model incorporated auto-regression over four months, spatial correlation between neighbouring blocks, and seasonality. Ninety-four percent of 10-90% prediction intervals from this model captured the observed count during a 24-month test period. Comparison of one-, three- and four-month-ahead predictions from the final model fit demonstrated that a longer time horizon yielded only a small sacrifice in predictive power for the vast majority of blocks.


The model developed is informed by routinely-collected surveillance data as it accumulates, and predictions are sufficiently accurate and precise to be useful. Such forecasts could, for example, be used to guide stock requirements for rapid diagnostic tests and drugs. More comprehensive data on factors thought to influence geographic variation in VL burden could be incorporated, and might better explain the heterogeneity between blocks and improve uniformity of predictive performance. Integration of the approach in the management of the VL programme would be an important step to ensuring continued successful control.